Despite rain, southern US still in grip of drought

By Jeff Martin, AP

ATLANTA — Recent showers and storms have slightly eased the South’s severe drought, but experts say it wasn’t enough to make up for months of dry conditions before the rain finally fell.

Nearly the entire region remains abnormally dry, and much more rain is needed before the drought’s demise can be declared, said Mark Svoboda, who directs the National Drought Mitigation Center.

The center’s weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday, describes some improvement due to recent rains, but its map shows the South stubbornly covered in oranges, reds and browns — bad news for a region becoming accustomed to wildfires.

“It takes a long time to go into a drought and it takes a long time to get out of it, and this one has been a doozy,” Georgia State Climatologist Bill Murphey said.

A large brown area of “exceptional drought” — the very worst conditions — still covers large swaths of Georgia and Alabama. That’s surrounded by red, indicating “extreme” drought, in parts of Tennessee and the western Carolinas. Orange, for “severe” drought, stretches from Louisiana eastward to the Carolinas.

Severe Weather Any rain is welcome, helping firefighters control more of the wildfires burning in a region that has lost much of its customary humidity. The South’s largest wildfire, which began in the Cohutta Wilderness area of north Georgia and charred nearly 28,000 acres, is now 100 percent contained, forest service officials said Thursday. The second-largest blaze, which also began in the north Georgia mountains, is 95 percent contained.

The third-largest — which started in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and killed 14 people in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area — is more than 80 percent contained, authorities said.