Crops are wilting in the fields in several states in the southeastern United States from an extreme drought that has crept up under the radar of most people living outside the region.
Farmers in northern Georgia, northeast Alabama, southeast Tennessee, western North Carolina and northwestern South Carolina are desperate for rain as harvest time nears. Combined with above average heat this summer, the corn crop in numerous counties has already been wiped out.
From April 1 to July 31, Chattanooga, Tenn., had only received 61 percent of its normal rainfall, a deficit of over 6.5 inches. August has started off dry in the Scenic City with a meager 0.09 inches in the first week. And throwing gas on the fire, the June and July average temperature was roughly 4 degrees warmer than normal.
Data from the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor show northern Georgia hardest hit with the most counties under “extreme” drought conditions, while western North Carolina is just slightly better off with “severe” and “moderate” conditions.
Tougher crops “like cotton and soybeans are surviving, but the corn crop is gone and so is most of the hay,” Norman Edwards, an agricultural extension agent for Walker County, Ga., told the Maryville Times.
Pastures are so barren that some cattle farmers are resorting to feeding their livestock bailed hay instead of allowing them to graze off the parched land, the Maryville Times reported.
Georgia’s famed peanut crop has also been adversely affected. “The peanuts that don’t have irrigation are really kind of suffering from the drought,” Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission, told Insurance Journal. “They have not fully developed as far as plants.”
The region needs rain sustained over a long period to alleviate the drought. This week, as low pressure over the Southeast draws tropical moisture northward from the Gulf of Mexico, some beneficial rains are likely.
“The broad low-pressure system centered just west of the county warning area should stagnate through the vast majority of the forecast period allowing for an abnormally moist and tropical air mass,” the National Weather Service forecast office serving Atlanta said in a discussion.
Several inches of rain could fall.
But sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The ground is so dry and impermeable that a lot of the rain will simply runoff, making the threat of flash flooding a concern.
Jason Samenow contributed to this post.