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Posted: July 20, 2013 7:35 p.m.

Rain heals, causes heartache

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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