From severe drought to severe flooding — what a difference a year can make.
For most Georgians the state’s three-year drought ended in April, but that change has never been clearer than the past three months, which have seen record rainfall and substantial flooding.
As of Thursday night, 53.73 inches of rain had fallen in Covington this year. While the number isn’t far removed from the city’s 30-year annual average of 49.1, it is 55 percent higher than the 2007 and 2008 totals, which were around 34 inches.
What makes that difference even more startling is that most of the rainfall has occurred in the past few months. Assistant State Climatologist Pam Knox said much of Georgia actually had a dry summer, but the state’s water levels remained high because of the wet spring.
It’s the rain-soaked fall that’s really pushed those precipitation numbers to their high levels. Knox said the El Niño phenomenon, which occurs once every three to five years, has been a significant component in these wetter months. El Niño is a weather event caused by the unusual warming of water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which then results in an oscillation between warm and cold temperatures. This oscillation causes a tropical jet stream of warm, moist air to be pushed northeast.
“Statistically, El Niño winters are cooler and wetter. If you look at maps, we had all of these storms go through Georgia, mostly in Southern Georgia. But the rainstorm in Atlanta in September was caused by a low pressure center which brought this warm, moist tropical air,” Knox said. “Once you get one storm, the soil is wet, and when the next storm comes, the water can’t soak into the ground.”
That’s when you have runoff and flooding. Knox said the problem for North Georgia is that it rains once every few days, so the ground never has a chance to dry out.
“We expect to see more of that. That jet will continue to steer that current toward us, and as long as it’s over us, we’ll continue to see that pulsing of weather, probably at least through the end of the year,” she said.
Knox said as the temperatures continue to drop it’s possible Georgia will see some sleet and snow.
Karl Kelley, director of the county’s water resources department, said the on and off pattern of rain has been a source of concern for local officials. However, since the heavy flooding that started on Sept. 22, Kelley said the county has only experienced minor, localized flooding.
“Now you can experience one inch of rainfall and experience runoff, whereas normally you would need 3 to 4 inches to see any of that,” he said.
On a good note, Kelley said the county’s two reservoirs are full and have been for a couple of months.
The abundant rainfall hasn’t just swelled rivers and flooded low lying areas; it’s also had a significant effect on some local businesses.
The construction industry has been particularly taken aback by the sudden increase in rain, as evidenced by the delay in large projects like the airport runway repaving and the building of Denny Dobbs Park.
The airport closed down Sept. 21 and was originally supposed to be opened by late November. However, with all of the rain and the colder temperatures, City Manager Steve Horton said it’s been difficult to pour asphalt and concrete.
The reopening date has been pushed back from Nov. 21, to Dec. 11 to Dec. 18 and, now, to Dec. 25. He said Pittman Construction has worked as much as possible on the few dry days, even going so far as to work late into the evening, whenever its been warm enough.
“But you can’t lay asphalt unless the temperature is 45 degrees and rising,” Horton said.
Under the contract with the city, Pittman had to finish the runway within 60 days or it could face monetary penalties. However, Horton said there were provisions to account for weather, and there’s simply nothing more that could have been done.
At Tuesday’s BOC meeting, Sunbelt Builders officials gave an update on Denny Dobbs Park and said the rain had made progress slow. However, they said they hadn’t yet moved back their completion timetable.
On the opposite end, those in the mold removal business said the rain has actually given them a boost. Roy Mote, a project manager with Dobbs Environmental, said this time of year is usually slow for environmental work, but the rain and flooding has caused an increase in mold infestations.
Dobbs Environmental does work all around Metro Atlanta, and Mote said one of the company’s biggest mold projects was cleaning out Habitat for Humanity homes in Atlanta that had been built during the rain.
“Before you can get the sub floor on the floor joyce it will have gotten wet. By the time they get the crawl spaces closed the wood has moisture in it, and that’s caused some of the mold,” he said. “We’ve been spraying and treating a lot of those crawl spaces.”
Mote said Dobbs Environmental has also been doing more testing for schools, police departments and other public and private agencies.
“Whenever there is a complaint in a school or public building, the owner always has to do something to ensure safety and cover them from any potential lawsuits,” he said.