State officials are hoping for a break in the hot, dry weather as conditions across Alabama continue to deteriorate.
“I know things are a lot worse south of here,” said Mark Rose, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
And what can people expect for future forecasts?
“Hot and dry,” Rose said early last week.
Weather conditions aren’t looking too promising with only spotty late afternoon showers.
“The one month outlook through June is showing extreme hot temperatures for the entire Southeast,” Rose said.
He said average rainfall amounts are already lagging behind by more than 4 inches, and the rainfall deficit continues to grow as each day goes by with little or no rain.
The record breaking temperatures and lack of rain put a strain on every aspect of life in Alabama, affecting everyone. It taxes utilities and even the local economy as farmers try to survive the blistering heat. The potential threat of fire, which can scorch hundreds to thousands of acres of land, is real.
Officials say nothing is certain, but this could be a long, hot, dry summer for everyone.
Brandon Glover, a spokesman for Alabama Power Company, said the Coosa River Basin received 5.8 inches below normal rainfall for the basin this year.
He said a wet March and April helped re-supply water in the Coosa River Basin, including Logan Martin Lake.
“We made up a lot of ground then,” Glover said.
He said March and April were the only two months so far this year during which rainfall amounts reached or exceeded the monthly average. Rainfall was below average for January, February and May.
The water level of Logan Martin Lake is about a foot below the normal full pool mark of 465 feet above sea level.
“We’re taking every opportunity to reserve water upstream,” Glover said. “If we have rain, we’re going to try and hold as much as we can, but we do have minimum flow requirements, so without additional rain, that water has to come out of the reservoirs.”
The extreme dry, hot weather has already taken its toll on farmers across the state, especially in south Alabama.
“It’s already a tough year for farmers and if we don’t get rain, it’s going to get worse for farmers,” said Henry Dorough, regional agent for the Alabama County Extension Office in Pell City.
Dorough oversees an eight-county area, which includes St. Clair and Talladega counties.
He said there already appears to be a shortage of hay, forcing farmers to use hay reserves until there is a break in the weather.
“Anytime it’s not raining, grass isn’t growing,” Dorough said.
He said because of the shortage of hay, farmers could start selling off their livestock.
“The farther south you go, the worse it is,” Dorough said. “Some farmers haven’t got their first cut of hay yet.”
He said in north St. Clair County farmers have received enough rain to make do.
“We’re abnormally dry here (in Pell City),” Dorough said. “Talladega? It’s mighty dry over there. To the Georgia state line south, it gets even worse, and the national forecast is not very optimistic.”
He said farmers need to keep a sharp eye on their fields for fall army worms, which can destroy a pasture.
“They can wipe out a pasture or hayfield in no time,” Dorough said. “With hot, dry conditions, they are going to be an issue.”
He said the secret is to catch the insects early and spray pastures before the bugs have time to destroy hayfields.
Because of the arid conditions, Gov. Robert Bentley has signed an Emergency Drought Condition Declaration prohibiting outdoor burning in all 67 counties.
“The lack of rain and unseasonably high temperatures have left much of the state extremely dry, creating high risk potential for devastating wildfires,” Bentley said. “As Alabamians are recovering from the tornadoes that moved through the state in April, it is important that debris not be burned. We must take every precaution necessary to avoid the start of a wildfire.”
The Alabama Forestry Commission reported that since January 1,808 wildfires have burned 41,000 acres in Alabama.
“The reduced availability of suppression resources, combined with the large amount of timber that was downed by the recent tornadoes, extremely high temperatures and low relative humidity, increase the risk for catastrophic wildfires,” said Alabama State Forester Linda Casey.
It is now illegal for a person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wildlands or marshes, to build a campfire or bonfire, or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass or woods fire.
The fine for violating the No Burn Order is up to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
Drought conditions can also take a toll on water resources.
Some Talladega city water customers were without water this week, not because of the drought but because a 10-12 inch water main broke. The city was required to temporarily buy water from Oxford to help meet water demands. The water main break, which was found and repaired Wednesday night, also forced voluntary water conservation efforts.
The major leak comes at a time when there are drought conditions and the city is only a couple of months away from when the demand for potable water is at its greatest.
Talladega City Manager Brian Muenger said the city’s water reserve is back to normal, and he doesn’t anticipate any long-term problems from the recent loss of water.
He said the incident did highlight a possible need for additional water storage.
He said Talladega, like most cities, has the authority to order mandatory water restrictions if the drought persists.
Muenger said it’s important that the city’s wells and surface water treatment plant work in unison.
“You need both,” he said.
Muenger said the city depends on the water flow of Talladega Creek for its surface water plant, and a severe drought could affect that flow.
“I’ve only been here three years, and it has never happened since I’ve been here,” Muenger said. “But I’ve been told there have been times where there was a danger of shutting down the surface water plant.”
He and other officials say droughts not only affect surface water flows but ground water, which supplies water to wells.
Rose said even though the outlook for the rest of June is hot, the National Weather Service is expecting normal summer conditions and rainfall amounts in the upcoming months.
“Temperatures for July, August and September are expected to be near or slightly below average,” Rose said.
But he agrees July, August and September are generally considered as some of the hottest and driest months of the year in Alabama.
Rose said it is going to be hard to make up the rainfall deficit, unless there is some type of tropical system to move or form in the Gulf of Mexico.
“When we have our first hot spell of the spring or summer I can count on people asking, ‘Is this going to be a hot summer?’” said John Christy, a state climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “This is especially the case when the hot spell follows a cold period, such as the one that set record lows in Alabama in mid-May. The truth is no one knows if this will be a hot summer or not because we have no skill at predicting how atmospheric pressure patterns will set up.”
Christy said as May ended and June began, the Southeastern United States was locked under an intense, warm high-pressure system that brought record or near record temperatures to Alabama cities.
He said as summer approaches and the general weather pattern shifts northward, the drought that developed this winter and spring in south Alabama is now in the extreme category, with many steams nearing record low values.
“Statewide, rainfall averaged about one-third of normal in May, while both Dothan and Gadsden set records for the driest May,” Christy said. “We are watching this situation closely because it is quite serious.”
He said south Talladega County is in the second stage of a drought or declared as an area experiencing a “moderate drought.”
Christy said the rest of Talladega County is in the first stage of a drought or “abnormally dry.”
“Each week the severity (of the drought) has been creeping northward,” he said.
Christy said he’s been collecting temperature data that may indicate a weather pattern change on the horizon for Alabamians.
He said if you are younger than 55, recent summers were (to you) the hottest ever, with the three hottest by far in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
“I’m concerned because our generation has become accustomed to summer activities in what the data shows has been a “cool” period since 1955, if summer in Alabama can ever be considered cool.” Christy said. “Recently, however, we’ve seen a return to the “normal” of the pre-1955 climate. I wonder how we will cope if the persistent heat and droughts of those years return, especially a year like 1930 in which some Alabama (weather) stations saw high temperatures hit 110-degree Fahrenheit.”
Contact David Atchison at email@example.com.