Temperatures hovered at or near 100 for the second week in a row in the Southeast today, worsening a drought that has already scorched crops and forcing an increasing number of communities to restrict water use severely.
The heat wave, cutting an arc between Louisiana and Virginia, has sent temperatures above 100 degrees daily for more than a week in some areas, and has been blamed for at least 10 deaths.
Forecasters held out little prospect for quick relief and said the outlook through the middle of next month calls for only normal rainfall.
But, said David Ihle of the Southeast Agricultural Weather Service Center in Auburn, Ala., "Even if you get normal rainfall, you're going to have trouble making up the deficit because there's a lot of evaporation." Ihle said that a massive high-pressure area has stationed itself over the Southeast, muscling out fronts that could set off rain clouds.
In Georgia, rainfall since the first of the year is 14 to 24 inches below normal, depending on the area.
"It's scary," said Jim Henderson, a farmer and cattleman in Hall County, northwest of Atlanta. "What we're seeing now we've never seen before."
Gary Beeley, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said the Atlanta area is the driest it has been since 1878, when record-keeping began. The city's rainfall this year totals 13.36 inches. In an average year, it would be about 30 inches by now.
Clayton County, rolling red-clay-and-pine country just south of Atlanta, has banned outdoor watering. "We're basically at the point that people can either have green yards or water in their house," said Melvin Newman, the county's water supply manager.
Leonard Ledbetter, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the state may be forced to declare an emergency in Clayton County and several north Georgia communities. The state has already asked 73 communities to implement voluntary restrictions on water use.
In North Carolina, Chapel Hill residents were being warned that they are subject to a 30-day jail sentence if they violate an emergency water-conservation law that limits showers to four minutes.
In South Carolina, farmers are facing economic disaster as an eight-day string of 100-degree temperatures and the prolonged dry spell wither crops, kill poultry and cut short the harvesting season.
"This is about the worst drought we've had in the state . . . in 100 years," said Henry W. Smith of the state agricultural department.
Five heat-related deaths have occurred in Georgia, two in North Carolina and one each in South Carolina, Virginia and Louisiana.