Bernard Sims has been dealt a double dose of bad luck: drought and downturn.
Staff Photo by Dan Henry
Jeff Southerland lays sod from Sims Sod farm in Catoosa county, Georgia, at Butch Brown's new residence in the Council Fire subdivision Wednesday afternoon. Drought and a slow housing market have made it difficult for local sod farmers to make ends meet.
The owner of Sims Sod Farm in Catoosa County, Mr. Sims has battled dry weather for the last two years, but as the economy and the housing market slow down so has the demand for sod.
“If the buildings are not being built and the yards are not being set, that affects our business,” he said Wednesday as his crew loaded a truck for a delivery to an East Brainerd subdivision.
This summer he lost about one-third of his nonirrigated sod and spent plenty of money on diesel-powered pumps to water his other fields.
“The rain will come when the good Lord’s willing,” Mr. Sims said. “Some times we question, don’t we?”
Mr. Sims is not sure which will improve first, but forecasters may have some good news on the drought front.
Current long-range forecasts from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center show Tennessee and Georgia’s northwestern corner show normal or slightly better than normal rain chances, while the state of Georgia has a strong chance for below-normal precipitation.
“From what I understand, that means either the drought will stay the same or it will improve,” said Dr. Luigi Romolo, a climatologist at the Southern Regional Climate Center in Baton Rouge, La. “It shouldn’t intensify.”
The 2009 Farmers’ Almanac is more optimistic, predicting “above normal conditions” for winter precipitation in the South. The Almanac sums up the winter as “brisk and wet” in the Southeast and “sizzlin’ and soggy” for the summer.
Winter rains can help replenish reservoirs more quickly than spring or summer storms, according to Dr. Romolo, because cooler temperatures cut down on evaporation and vegetation that normally would suck up moisture is dormant.
“It does count more toward getting things back to normal,” he said.
“Normal” is something the region has not seen in some time when it comes to rainfall, according to Dr. William Schmitz, a climatologist at the Southeast Regional Climate Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
September, October and November have actually been drier this year than the same time frame in 2007, Dr. Schmitz said, citing figures from the National Weather Service. The figures serve as a reminder that heavy rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay helped, but didn’t quench the region’s 18-month thirst.
“It hasn’t ended,” he said. “It’s the same drought.”
Before Friday’s rain, Chattanooga had received about 36 inches of precipitation this year, more than 10 inches below the average year-to-date figure.
Mr. Sims knows that deficit better than most.
“Our best situation would be about an inch a week,” he said.
Chattanooga didn’t receive an inch of rain in all of September, although its average is about 4.3 inches.
But those trends should change early in the new year, according to Sandi Duncan, the managing editor at The Farmer’s Almanac.
“February looks very wet and cold,” she said.
The Maine-based publication’s prediction of a wet winter was based on a proprietary mathematic and astronomical formula, she said.
“It does look like an overall wet winter, which should help the drought,” she said.
Mr. Sims said he hoped the more-rain forecast was correct.
“We in farming are always optimistic,” he said. “It’s always going to be a better year next year.”
Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...