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Dry weather has Lanier dropping
Climatologist: El Nio could boost levels in winter
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Forsyth County News

Remember rain?

It splashed us hard in May but seems to have taken a summer vacation, leaving lawns to roast in the daytime sun.

Lake Lanier, which seemed headed straight for full pool, peaked at 1,066.71 feet above sea level on June 17 and was at 1065.5 Friday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

And now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects Lanier dropping to 1,063.5 feet over the next five weeks because of "current and predicted dry conditions and less inflows into the lake," corps spokeswoman Lisa Coghlan said.

"What I would like to stress, operationally at Lanier, (is that) only the minimum flows are being released for water quality at Peachtree Creek (and) for the city of Atlanta," she said.

"Also, the corps is not releasing water to meet the needs further downstream of Atlanta, because Walter F. George and West Point (lakes) are both at full pool."

The last time Lake Lanier was at full pool, 1,071 feet, or above was Sept. 6, 2005. A two-year drought drained the lake to its lowest level ever, 1,050.79 feet, on Dec. 26, 2007, down 17 feet in seven months.

A wetter-than-normal spring helped revive the lake, bringing it to 1,065 feet by Memorial Day.

About the time the recent dry weather pattern began in June, state officials were declaring the end of the drought and loosening watering restrictions.

"We do expect the soils to dry out during July," said state climatologist David Stooksbury. "Across North Georgia, soils are running ... on the dry end of near normal, and this is due to the lack of rainfall over the last couple of months."

The state has entered an El Niño climate pattern, he said, created by warm currents in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

"During the summer and fall, (El Niño) has a tendency to depress tropical activity and so ... the next couple of months will continue to be relatively dry," Stooksbury said. "We probably will not have the late summer and fall tropical activity that quite often will bring us beneficial and timely rains."

However, historically, an El Niño winter "means cooler-than-normal temperatures and wetter-than-normal conditions."

"So, if we have a traditional El Niño winter, actually, I would expect that Lanier will be at full pool sometime in the winter," he said.

Coghlan wasn’t downbeat about the corps' forecast, which is updated every Tuesday.

"One tropical event can drastically change water elevations," she said.

She noted how Hurricane Fay, a tropical storm by the time it reached North Georgia, spiked lake levels last August. In two days, the lake’s elevation had jumped 2 feet.

Stooksbury said the drier conditions aren’t all bad.

"This is actually good news for the wine industry in North Georgia," he said.

"We’re starting to see the pastures start to dry, but the good news is that ... most farmers were able to get two or three good cuttings of hay to store up for the winter."