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Top U.S. weather story of 2007: the Southeast U.S. drought

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:29 PM GMT on January 01, 2008

The year 2007 is in the record books as the driest or second driest year on record for much of the Southeastern U.S. A mere 31.85 inches of rain fell in Atlanta, Georgia, during the year, 62% of the average of 48 inches. This year's rainfall total just missed breaking the record of 31.80 inches set in 1954. Rainfall records in Atlanta go back to 1930. The drought was worse in Alabama, where Birmingham had its driest year on record--just 28.86", a full 25 inches below average, smashing the record low of 36.14" set in 1931. Huntsville was even drier--a mere 28.65"--29 inches below average. Surrounding areas of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia also experienced extraordinarily dry years (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Drought conditions in the Southeastern U.S. were at the highest level possible--exceptional drought--at the end of 2007. Image credit: NOAA.

Although the current drought is exceptional, Atlanta has had much drier 2-year periods. During the drought of 1954-1955, Atlanta received 68.23 inches of precipitation--a 28 inch deficit from the normal 2-year rainfall. The deficit for the past two years is only 16 inches, since an average amount of rain fell in 2006 (48.46 inches). Based on the climatological record, Georgia can expect a two-year drought about once in 25 years, and a drought lasting three or more years about once every 40 years. Drought is part of the natural cycle in Georgia, and it would not be a surprise to see the drought of 2007 continue until the winter of 2008. Although December 2007 saw Atlanta's first above average month of rainfall since November 2006, the coming two weeks look very dry, and the current La Nina atmospheric pattern usually brings below average rainfall.

What is causing the Georgia drought?
Two main factors are responsible for the Southeast U.S. drought. Most importantly, a persistent jet stream pattern has set up that steers storms away from the region, and into Texas instead. Texas, which suffered extreme drought in 2006, found itself awash in floods in 2007, as the jet stream pattern brought storm after storm to the state. Another contributing factor to the current Southeast drought is the absence of tropical storms and hurricanes during 2006 and 2007. These storms are an important part of the annual rainfall budget for the Southeast. For example, in 2005, 29% of Atlanta's yearly rainfall came from five tropical storms:

1.36" Arlene June 11-12, 2005
1.40" Katrina, August 29-30, 2005
5.48" Cindy, July 6-8, 2005
5.41" Dennis, July 9-12, 2005
2.94" Tammy, October 6-8, 2005

Figure 2. Over ten inches of rain fell on Atlanta in 2005 from two tropical cyclones, Dennis and Cindy. Tropical cyclones accounted for 29% of Atlanta's rainfall that year. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.

There is little evidence that global warming contributed to this drought. The Southeastern U.S. has cooled by about 0.1° F over the past 100 years, even as the rest of the globe has warmed 1° F. The reasons for this lack of warming in the Southeast are not fully understood. One theory is that the cooling is due to air pollution blocking sunlight. Another theory, proposed by Georgia State Climatologist David Stooksbury, attributes the cooling to the shift from 80 percent row crops (like corn and cotton) to 60 percent forest. Land use changes like this can have a significant impact on how solar energy heats the air once it is absorbed by the soil.

Why Atlanta is vulnerable to drought
Atlanta, unlike most major cities, grew up around rail lines rather than a major body of water. Although the Chattahoochee River runs through Atlanta, the city lies on top of a watershed, with no large bodies of water upstream. The rivers and streams in the region are small, and the bedrock limits how much ground water is available. The Lake Lanier reservoir that supplies Atlanta with most of its water was constructed in the 1950s. Since that time, the population of Atlanta has quadrupled, increasing the pressure on the reservoir's limited water. Lake Lanier is at its record lowest level--more than 19 feet below average. If the drought continues into the summer of 2008, and no tropical storms arrive to break the drought, Atlanta may run out of water.

By 2030, the population of the Atlanta metropolitan area is expected to increase from 5 million to 9 million. Current water resources in the regions will be unable to support this population increase, unless planners make a concerted and expensive effort to plan ahead. The expected increase in temperatures over the coming decades due to global warming will make future droughts in the region even more severe, so Atlanta has a very tough road ahead of it.

Jeff Masters

Georgia Drought Series 2 (HurricaneIan)
Like my last series, this Series of photos concern the drought in North Georgia. These were taken at Lake Chatuge, Georgia. This is near the North Carolina Line and near a town called Hiawassee. North Georgia is experiencing a major drought. These docks are designed to float and adjust to water depth, however, now they are high and dry. The depth of these lakes varies from season to season, however, this is by far the lowest I have ever seen it. This water is not only used for drinking, this is also the primary supply of hydro-electric power for the region. The drought is causing other problems as well, the leaves are not changing properly, some look burnt and others fall off before turning. North Georgia and surrounding areas need rain in the worst way. The good news is it is raining
Georgia Drought Series 2
Scenes from Lake Lanier, GA (DadandMarcher)
Here are a few scenes from Lake Lanier in Buford, GA. We are going through a record setting drought this year. Everyday now we set a new record for the Lake level since the inception of the lake in the 1950's
Scenes from Lake Lanier, GA

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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217. lawntonlookers
6:32 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
Here is a link to current pressure. Usually the Higr Pressure goes with the colder temperture. I have seen -60F in a frost pocket near Wanakena, NY and have seen -65F in Alaska. Both were during an extremly high pressure. I am not sure what the pressure was, but I do remember it was COLD.

Today Surface Pressure
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216. Bonedog
1:38 PM EST on January 02, 2008
ewww ice :(

didnt get anything from the systems by me. Mostly all rain. Had a brief burst of snow that coated the driveway with about a 1/4" by morning the slat I threw the night before had it all cleaned up.

Waiting patiently for my share of the white stuff that northern new England has been reciving.

Now that I think of it... New England stop hogging all the awards will ya :)
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215. Rainman32
1:35 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Well I always like a good challenge, the official climate data from National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), not the easiest to navigate!
Find your station: CDO Station Search, then select the appropriate GSOD - Global Summary of the Day.

Some results for the current query:


722060 19640910 991.9 (29.2908)
722060 19790104 1038.8 (30.6758)


722590 19830305 993.7 (29.3439)
722590 19891223 1047.9 (30.9445)

For the current Dallas-Fort Worth INTL AP, TX it looks a record, that one starts at 1973..

This is the one from 1953-1973, got it too if the pressure verifies

999999 19600209 991.8 (29.2878)
999999 19620110 1047.1 (30.9209)
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214. Drakoen
6:31 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
The low for me will be around 32 degrees. There will be a slight chance of precipitation in the morning perhaps some light snow/Flurries 10% chance.
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213. V26R
6:30 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
Happy New Year All
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212. hondaguy
6:29 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
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211. NEwxguy
6:25 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
In my area,lots of ice didn't get too much new snow,that was more north,my driveway is a mess,can't wait for this big warmup.
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210. Bonedog
1:12 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Hey Ne. hows things up your way?
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209. NEwxguy
6:11 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
Happy New Year, Bone
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208. Bonedog
1:00 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Afternoon folks. Happy New Year to all
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207. IKE
12:01 PM CST on January 02, 2008
Record low for Crestview, Fl.(neighboring city just to my west), for January 3rd(tomorrow morning), is 17 degrees.

Forecast low for Crestview,FL. for tonight/tomorrow morning is 14.

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206. hondaguy
6:00 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
Thanks! :-) It will def. be bookmarked!
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205. weatherboyfsu
6:00 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
Good afternoon,

Someone needs to shut the door, its getting cold here...................You people that live at the Florida-Georgia border need to help me out here........

And by the way, how bout them there Gators............

peace out!
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204. weatherguy03
12:57 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Honda. Best page you can ever have....Link Bookmark it!!..LOL
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203. hondaguy
5:52 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
Good Morning and Happy New Year everyone!

Weatherguy03...where do you get the numbers from the models? I would like to know what the numbers are for Baton Rouge tonight.

That's crazy about the chance of flurries...not something seen very often here in the south!
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202. weatherguy03
12:52 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Some 12Z Model numbers for tonite:

NGM: 22F

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201. weatherguy03
12:47 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Official NWS forecast for St. Aug:

Tonight: A slight chance of flurries after 4am. Partly cloudy, with a low around 24. Wind chill values as low as 15. Blustery, with a north wind between 13 and 16 mph, with gusts as high as 32 mph.

Thursday: A slight chance of flurries before 1pm. Partly cloudy, with a high near 48. Wind chill values as low as 14 early. Breezy, with a north wind between 13 and 17 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph.
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199. petet
02 01, 2008 17:38 GMT
197. IKE
11:28 AM CST on January 02, 2008
hurricane23...thanks for the link on Florida snows...

I remember this one...my mom got me out of school in Panama City,FL...we went to my grannies here in Defuniak Springs and the next morning we had several inches of snow on the ground....# February 9, 1973 – Snow falls over the northern portion of the state, including a total of 2 inches (50 mm) in Pensacola with unofficial reports of up to 8 inches (200 mm).[6]

This is the one I was speaking of earlier...I thought it was in the 1980's....................# January 17, 1977 – The pressure gradient between a strong ridge over the Mississippi Valley and a Nor'easter over Atlantic Canada send very cold temperatures southward into the state. Areas around Pensacola are the first to receive the snow. By early on January 19, West Palm Beach reports snow for the first time on record, with snow flurries reaching as far south as Homestead. The snow causes little impact as it quickly melts, though the accompanying cold air results in hundreds of millions in damage and several deaths. On January 20, the Miami Herald reports the event as the front page story, with a headline of a size usually reserved for the declaration of war.[10]
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196. aquak9
12:22 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Ike, 31.03 in/Hg? ouch, that's a little over 1050 mb!
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195. hurricane23
12:20 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Snow in miami is very rare and to be honest for us along the eastcoast temps will not reach the freezeing mark but if you go towards like naples or around the lake temps should dip into the mid to lower 30's.The big problem is the 15-20 wind the makes the temp feel colder then it actually is on your skin.

Here is one event

Snow Falls on S. Florida
Bitter Cold, High Wind Turn Killer

For most of Greater Miami, the forecast was on the mark. From 8:30 to 9:00 AM, snow reports emanated from the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Broward County. Homestead, 23 miles (37 km) southwest of Miami in southern Dade County (latitude 25 deg, 30 minutes), reported snow falling. While observers at Miami International Airport never officially reported snow, radar picked up echos of snow falling around the city, and there were numerous public sightings of the unusual precipitation, including some from Miami Beach.

The fine granular snow crystals dusted the palms and baptised the ground with white water, but they soon melted. Most children, and many adults, had never seen snow before -- at least not live and in concert. "They were ecstatic, running around with their tongues out, trying to catch the snow in their mouths," commented Wilton Manors Elementary School principal, Mary Crum.

The snow and cold continued to move southeastward, bringing snow mixed with cold rain to Freeport in the Bahamas. Within a couple of days, weather conditions returned to near normal in south Florida.

The snow was the prime topic for conversation on the 19th and 20th, but the accompanying cold was devastating to Florida's economy. Damage to crops in Dade County alone reached the $100 million (1977 dollars) mark. The entire mainland of Florida fell below freezing and record low temperatures were registered at many locations. Naples fell to 26 oF (-3.3 oC); West Palm Beach recorded a low of 27 oF (-2.8 oC); Miami Beach sat on the freezing mark 32 oF (0 oC) and only rose to a chilling 47 oF (8.3 oC) that afternoon, the coldest maximum on record. Sections of Dade and Broward Counties plummeted to record minimum temperatures as low as 20 oF (-6.6 oC), and remained below freezing for 10-14 hours.

List of snow events in Florida from WIKI
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194. IKE
11:19 AM CST on January 02, 2008
Highest pressure in Texas...

"Observed at: McKinney, Texas
Elevation: 584 ft
34 °F
Humidity: 42%
Dew Point: 13 °F
Wind: 10 mph from the NE
Pressure: 31.03 in (Rising)
Windchill: 26 °F
Visibility: 10.0 miles
UV: 3 out of 16
Clouds: Clear -
(Above Ground Level)"
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193. Weather456
1:14 PM AST on January 02, 2008
190. davidw221 1:02 PM AST on January 02, 2008 Hide this comment.
Any updates on the big storm coming into California tomorrow? lots o floods, blizzard conditions, 80mph winds, kinda like a cat 1 snowstorm, lol, send information on updates please.

I will have some updates on my blog a little later
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192. aquak9
12:12 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Looking at your PWS charts, Rain...has barometer leveled off/dropped a little? Do you think we have reached our high pressure peak of the day already?
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191. Rainman32
12:07 PM EST on January 02, 2008
Heh, it is interesting that I recorded both record low and hi pressure in early 2005 just over a month apart, hmmm....

still looking for official sources but I think we can pretty definitely say that we are seeing very high pressure for this area climatologically, I think my ears just popped
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190. davidw221
11:58 AM EST on January 02, 2008
Any updates on the big storm coming into California tomorrow? lots o floods, blizzard conditions, 80mph winds, kinda like a cat 1 snowstorm, lol, send information on updates please.
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189. aquak9
11:58 AM EST on January 02, 2008
You're right, Rain. We are holding steady at 30.45mm/hg right now.
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188. IKE
10:56 AM CST on January 02, 2008
My low forecast for tonight is 16-19 here in Defuniak Springs,FL.. I've seen it as low as single digits here before...back in the mid-80's(think it was down to somewhere between 2 to 4 degrees).

I've also seen it snow before down to Miami,FL. around the same time...so the cold snap does happen, but it's rare.
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187. definer
4:59 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
NEWwxguy said in post 151 "I know I jump into water in the 60's,kind of takes your breath away,but with water temps in the low 40's,your heart must stop briefly and you go numb."

I was stationed on an Aleutian island (Shemya) in 1982 and took the opportunity to test the waters there. The water temp there is a constant 38 degrees F. It was BRACING to say the least! There were three of us and we heated the truck up until we started to sweat, ran out, jumped in and swam about 50 feet and then ran back to the truck. First and last time I ever did that!! LOL
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186. aquak9
11:54 AM EST on January 02, 2008
I went fishing in the Keys once, franck. Caught a half a kingfish- barracudas got ahold of it before I got it on the boat, I ended up with a head and half a torso. :(

But it was a beautiful day! (had to keep the post weather-related)

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185. hurricane23
11:55 AM EST on January 02, 2008
54 degrees outside my house here in miami at noon time....These temps dont come around to often.

Look out when that sun comes down.
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184. Rainman32
11:49 AM EST on January 02, 2008
It's a PWS, checking the same for KFLJACKS18

HI 30.60in / 1036.1hPa (1/18/2005)
LO 29.41in / 995.8hPa (2/27/2005)

CURRENT 30.37in / 1028.3hPa
Already topped out earlier 30.39in / 1029.0hPa

but this is only going back 3yrs from an unofficial source, so...
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183. franck
4:54 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
petet...please do. Always wanted to visit Bulgaria. I was in Moscow for a couple weeks once, and throughout Czech Republic.
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182. franck
4:48 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
aquak9...guess the pressure is a little too high.
However, my brother-in-law is a Captain in the lower Keys, and he sent me some photos of the last few days catches. Impressive!!
But that guy will fish 12 foot seas he loves fishing so much.
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181. CybrTeddy
4:45 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
Wow, im in Florida, and I have never guessed that this would be todays and Tonights Temps.
47° F | 23° F
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180. aquak9
11:44 AM EST on January 02, 2008
Rain, see post 164? That Lakeshore station is only about 3 miles from me, I think.
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179. petet
02 01, 2008 16:43 GMT

That is very very very rare phenomenium in Bulgaria.After the hottest summer with 45* temps and fires and very hot 2007 without snow,now it is the dream winter.So beutiful i will try to make a photos
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178. aquak9
11:41 AM EST on January 02, 2008
Franck, we have gale warnings and lake wind advisories in effect here. I doubt anyone will be out fishing unless it's from a dock!

Luckily the Salvation Army has opened it's emergency shelters so I feel better about that- our normal shelters in this area remain at full capacity even during nice weather.

My biggest worry will be house fires and rolling blackouts.
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177. petet
02 01, 2008 16:40 GMT

Yes,I've never seen before that.Maybe because we are sea city and that help for thunders.
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176. yamil20
4:37 PM GMT on Enero 02, 2008
happy new year to everyone and may all your wishes comes true!!
i have seen many articles about the citrus in florida being affected by the cold temperatures,but what about the homeless??do you guys know any info about the condition of these poor people or if there is any center where they can spent the night
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175. Rainman32
11:38 AM EST on January 02, 2008
Actually Aqua looks like it may be very close for this local.. will have to see if can find something more definite (30.0N, 80.0W is over the ocean but the closest available from that dataset)
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174. aquak9
11:39 AM EST on January 02, 2008
Thanks ya'll! (Rain♥)
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173. LakeShadow
4:35 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
petet...thats thundersnow! Sometimes its pink or green...its really cool and unusual but we see it here with the thermodynamics of the North American Great Lakes at least once a year.
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172. franck
4:39 PM GMT on January 02, 2008
aquak9...they say the fish bite like crazy when the barometer gets high in the Florida Winter fishing season.
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171. Weather456
12:31 PM AST on January 02, 2008

Scattered showers lies across the Northwest Caribbean north of Honduras west of 85W. This activity is associated with the aforementioned cold front. Fairly stable air remains in place over the remainder of the Caribbean in the mid and upper levels. Easterly flow at the surface continue to advect typical patches of shallow cloudiness and showers across the Islands with the most prevalent cloud bands impacting the Leeward Islands and the Central American Coast.

As winds tightening south of the subtropical ridges expected 6-8 ft seas over the Caribbean in general with the highest swells across the Southwest Caribbean near 14 ft. Seas west of 80W should remain below 5ft for now due to the lack of a substantial pressure gradient. But expect swift winds and increasing seas from the northwest and the cold front moves across the area.

By W456
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170. franck
4:36 PM GMT on January 02, 2008

Thundersnow!! Once a very rare phenomenon... getting more and more common recently.
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169. Rainman32
11:33 AM EST on January 02, 2008
That's one tough assignment Aqua! Here is one source I found CISL Research Data Archive ds010.0 Home Page

I went back to 1970, lo and hi

Gridpoint Time Series for 30.0N, 80.0W

9/15/1999 12:00 989.1
1/4/1979 12:00 1037.3
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168. aquak9
11:33 AM EST on January 02, 2008
Thanks ya'll. I'm at about 1033 right now, no record-breakers.

RH at 23.8%, dewpoint at llº. Pretty well unheard of around here.
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167. lawntonlookers
4:29 PM GMT on January 02, 2008

--Air Pressure--

Above is another link on air pressure that gives the record high and low pressure.
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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