Rain heals, causes heartache

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

This year’s record rain­fall has been a bless­ing and a curse.

And it may be stick­ing around a lit­tle longer.

New­ton County had al­ready re­ceived more rain as of July 6 than it did in all of 2012, and this year’s down­pours have had wide-rang­ing ef­fects, bring­ing the state out of drought, fill­ing up drink­ing-wa­ter sup­plies and keep­ing tem­per­a­tures down, but also harm­ing farm­ers’ crops and wreak­ing havoc on home gar­dens and lawns.

Why so much rain?

A per­sis­tent high-pres­sure sys­tem off the At­lantic Coast has been reg­u­larly pulling moist air from the Gulf of Mex­ico north across Ge­or­gia, ac­cord­ing to State Cli­ma­tol­o­gist Bill Mur­phey. The state also has re­ceived some moist air from the At­lantic Ocean, he said, and has had some of the tra­di­tional af­ter­noon show­ers and thun­der­storms that oc­cur in the sum­mer.

The ef­fects have been ob­vi­ous. New­ton County has re­ceived 38.87 inches of rain in 2013 through Fri­day, and it only re­ceived a to­tal of 36.23 inches in all of 2012, ac­cord­ing to Ge­or­giaWeather.net, which com­piles data from a rain gauge at the FFA-FCCLA Cen­ter in south­ern New­ton County.

The county has al­ready had 81 rainy days so far in 2013, com­pared with 109 in 2012.

Ge­or­gia, where at least part of the state had been in a state of drought since July 2010, broke out of the drought in most ar­eas in Fe­bru­ary and March, and no por­tion of the state had any drought con­di­tions by late April, ac­cord­ing to the National Drought Mit­i­ga­tion Cen­ter.

“Of course, this past June we’ve had sub­stan­tial rain­fall, too, for At­lanta and North Ge­or­gia; we’re def­i­nitely out of drought boat, don’t have the drought con­di­tions, and we have some nice sur­pluses around here now, of rain­fall.”

More com­ing?

And the rain could keep com­ing, as the fed­eral Cli­mate Pre­dic­tion Cen­ter an­tic­i­pates above-aver­age rain­fall for all of Ge­or­gia dur­ing Au­gust, Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

How­ever, one neg­a­tive could be an in­creased trop­i­cal storm sea­son. Mur­phey said a model cre­ated by Colorado State Univer­sity – The Trop­i­cal Me­te­o­rol­ogy Pro­ject – is pre­dict­ing there will be 18 storms big enough to be named in 2013, in­clud­ing nine hur­ri­canes and four

ma­jor hur­ri­canes.

The model also is pre­dict­ing an above-aver­age chance that a ma­jor hur­ri­cane (any­thing be­tween cat­e­gory 3 and 5) will hit the U.S. coast. How­ever, the chance of even a mi­nor hur­ri­cane hit­ting Ge­or­gia is only 19 per­cent in 2013, com­pared with an aver­age chance of 11 per­cent. Lower temps

Though it’s been par­tic­u­larly hu­mid given the in­creased mois­ture, tem­per­a­tures have been quite a bit lower than the past few years, Mur­phey said.

The aver­age max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture in June and July 2013 has been 86.5 de­grees, com­pared with 89.6 in 2012, 92.7 in 2011 and 91.3 in 2010, ac­cord­ing to Ge­or­giaWeather.net. Tem­per­a­tures were sim­i­larly lower in April and May.

New­ton County’s only had six days with a high above 90 de­grees so far in 2013, com­pared with 27 last year through the same pe­riod, in­clud­ing four 100-de­gree-plus days.

How­ever, the Cli­mate Pre­dic­tion Cen­ter ex­pects tem­per­a­tures to be around aver­age dur­ing the next three months. Reser­voirs, rivers

Cov­ing­ton’s deputy city man­ager Billy Bouchillon said Fri­day the reser­voirs are full and have re­mained full with­out hav­ing to pump from the Al­covy River, which feeds both Lake Varner, the county’s main reser­voir, and City Pond.

New­ton County wa­ter of­fi­cials could not be reached Fri­day to pro­vide spe­cific lake lev­els, but news sto­ries have re­ported full reser­voirs else­where around the area, and Jack­son Lake was filled, said Jody Nolan, deputy di­rec­tor of New­ton County Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

Stream flows are also up in New­ton County, ac­cord­ing to stream flow data from the U.S. Ge­o­graph­i­cal Sur­vey.

Chris Man­ganiello, po­lice di­rec­tor for the Ge­or­gia River Net­work, said it is nice to see river lev­els up af­ter a cou­ple years of limited rain­fall, along with ground­wa­ter and reser­voir lev­els. Of course, all of the rain can cause runoff is­sues, in­clud­ing the build­ing up of sed­i­ment in river beds.

He also warned that ar­eas near rivers will be more prone to flood­ing if high rain lev­els con­tinue. Mos­qui­toes

All of the rain leads to more places with stand­ing rain, which are fa­vorite breed­ing grounds of mos­qui­toes.

How­ever, the con­stant rain has ac­tu­ally been keep­ing mos­quito pop­u­la­tions low since they need stand­ing wa­ter fol­lowed by sun­shine to have the best nest­ing ground, Mur­phey said.

“The key is if you can get rid of pond­ing wa­ter and any­thing that picks up wa­ter (on your prop­erty),” said Mur­phey, not­ing mos­qui­toes can carry nu­mer­ous dis­eases.

The Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health said stand­ing wa­ter can col­lect and at­tract mos­qui­toes to lay lar­vae in items such as flow­er­pots, wheel­bar­rows, gut­ters and aban­doned tires. The depart­ment en­cour­ages res­i­dents to clean out such wa­ter as of­ten as pos­si­ble.

Bouchillon said the city’s street depart­ment has been spraying for mos­qui­toes since April and con­tin­ues to do so through Septem­ber. The city spends about $10,000 for chem­i­cals and about $5,000 for equip­ment and la­bor, Bouchillon said. Af­fect­ing agri­cul­ture

While the early rain was a wel­come change, the re­cent down­pours have caused sev­eral is­sues for New­ton County’s farm­ers, ac­cord­ing to Ted Wynne, the county’s Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia ex­ten­sion agent.

Wynne said there are 1,000 acres of wheat stand­ing in the fields that should have been har­vested a month ago but can’t be col­lected be­cause of the in­ces­sant rain. The rain is ei­ther caus­ing the wheat to spoil, or sprout, in which case it won’t fetch as high a price, Wynne said, es­ti­mat­ing the wheat will lose about half its value on a price-per-bushel ba­sis.

“We’re not talk­ing about just a few thou­sand dollars; we’re talk­ing about hun­dreds of thou­sands of dollars (farm­ers are) go­ing to lose,” Wynne said.

The prob­lem is com­pounded be­cause that less-valu­able wheat is pre­vent­ing other crops from be­ing planted, in­clud­ing soy­beans, which it’s al­most too late to plant now, and sorghum. Crops that do get planted soon will have re­duced yields, Wynne said.

One of New­ton County’s most pop­u­lar crops is hay, but the hay that was cut a month ago can’t be col­lected be­cause of the rain, and as farm­ers pre­pare for an­other cut­ting, the old hay is con­tam­i­nat­ing some of the new hay.

“It’s just a mess this year, but at least the cows are happy eat­ing green grass,” said Wynne, not­ing that cat­tle farm­ers have no short­age of plush pas­ture­land.

If farm­ers were able to plant soy­beans and corn – a par­tic­u­larly wa­ter-needy plant – be­fore June 1, those crops aren’t do­ing as poorly, Wynne said.

“I’d still prob­a­bly rather have too much rain than not enough; it seems like we go from one ex­treme to the next,” Wynne said.

An­other is­sue that has af­fected pro­fes­sional farms and home gar­den­ers alike is the fact grow­ers haven’t been able to ap­ply pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides, al­low­ing weeds to run ram­pant. Fer­til­izer also has been hard to put and keep down, Wynne said.

Home pro­duce gar­den­ers are see­ing a lot of is­sues with fun­gus and other bac­te­rial dis­eases, which are thriv­ing in the hu­mid con­di­tions.

What­ever the is­sue, Wynne en­cour­aged peo­ple to take ad­van­tage of the ex­ten­sion of­fice’s free ser­vice of an­a­lyz­ing plants to de­ter­mine what dis­eases they have.

As far as how to com­bat the con­di­tions, Wynne said gar­den­ers just need to fol­low good grow­ing tech­niques, in­clud­ing main­tain­ing good soil fer­til­ity.

Even some of the area’s trees are be­ing neg­a­tively af­fected. City Ar­borist Kevin Sor­rows said years of drought have weak­ened some trees’ roots and now that the rain has loos­ened the soil, high winds are more likely to knock down trees.

Sor­rows en­cour­aged home­own­ers to in­spect their own trees for signs of dam­age, in­clud­ing fun­gus near the ground and dy­ing limbs in the canopy. If they’re un­sure, they can al­ways hire a con­sult­ing ar­borist to give ad­vice; ar­borists can be found through the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Ar­borists.

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