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Cold fronts interrupting warmer, drier winter
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With low temperatures set to dip into the teens tonight and Monday, Newton County residents are eager for climatologists predictions of a warmer than average winter to come true.

Climate conditions are pushing occasional cold fronts south from Canada, including the one set for next week, said Assistant State Climatologist Pam Knox Friday. Georgia will likely see one or two more cold fronts before the pattern changes.

However, State Climatologist David Stooksbury’s winter outlook calls for a warmer and drier winter than normal, and a significant change from last year’s winter, which was the coldest since 1978. That could lead to significant savings on utility bills, as heating demand across the county could be 10 percent less than last year, according to Weather Services International. Georgia residents could see even greater savings.

The cold fronts will give Georgia cities a slightly higher chance of having a "White Christmas," defined as an inch of snow or greater on the ground on Christmas Day. The National Climatic Data Center annually predicts a less than 5 percent chance of a White Christmas for this part of Georgia. WSB Radio Meteorologist Kirk Mellish said Atlanta annually has around a 25 percent chance, but upgraded that the probability to 38 percent this year.

While residents will likely welcome the milder than normal winter, farmers are concerned about the possible lack of rainfall. Newton County has received around 43.45 inches of rain this year, on pace to fall short of its 30-year average of 49.1 inches, despite the heavier rainfall earlier in the year and in November.

However, outside of November’s rain, the county had been in a moderate drought, particularly during the summer, where it received 30 percent less rain than average, said County Extension Agent Ted Wynne. That correlated to a 30 percent reduction in hay production and as much as a 66 percent reduction to some farmers soybean crops.

"During the spring we were really looking for a great crop, but when the time came, we didn’t see rain. Instead of 80-90 bushels per acre, we wound up with 30-40 bushels per acre for soybeans," Wynne said.

Three local farmers were eligible to receive state drought disaster assistance, said an official with a local agricultural agency, who could not be quoted per agency rules. The farmers had to have at least a 5 percent crop loss and the official said the Newton County farmers would likely receive a couple of thousand dollars.

The heavy November rain actually came at the wrong time for farmers planting winter crops, because it put them behind their planting schedule and made it less likely they would be able to double crop, or plant two crops on the same land during the same season.

"One great thing about our part of the country is we can double crop, and go back in with wheat and recoup some losses we sustained in the summer or winter," Wynne said. "That’s why a lot of farmers don’t put all their eggs in one basket, but spread out over the entire country. They may locate farms in many different locations, because one area my get a good thunderstorm and other area may burn up. Yields varied by 10 to 15 bushels per acre in some areas."

However, the winter is normally one of Georgia’s wettest periods, which is necessary to replenish soil moisture, which crops need to draw upon during the warm growing seasons.

The winter season is when farms plant rye and other grasses, which are mainly used to feed Newton County’s cattle. Without rain, the grass seeds will not pick up the fertilizer, and without the extra grass the cattle will not gain as much weight as farmers would like, hurting their bottom line.

"All in all we’ll keep our fingers crossed, since we don’t have much irrigation in this county," Wynne said.


Home Gardens, Water Conservation

While most home gardens aren’t used in the winter, Wynne said this is a good time for residents to test their soil. If there are any nutrient deficiencies or PH imbalances, they can be corrected during this time of year.

"They don’t wait until spring time, so taking a soil sample now is very important, Wynne said. "Once they get that info in hand, they can start amending soil and get mulch lined up to mulch their garden and conserve moisture. That can help in good and bad years. It’s really, really important."

Wynne said his office, the Newton County Extension Office, as well as local feed and seed stores are great places to go for advice about testing and amending soil.

Knox, the assistant state climatologist, said if water patterns continue, gardeners may also want to consider planting heartier, water-resistant species.

For non-gardeners, the lack of water should just reinforce the daily water conservation tactics that residents should always use, she added.

Farmer’s future