Hamilton and most of the surrounding counties have officially pulled out of the drought, though the area is still considered "abnormally dry."
"It's an improvement, however, one should be cautious," said Dr. Luigi Romolo, director of the Southern Regional Climate Center in Baton Rouge, La.
According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday, the drought's grip on Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia has weakened significantly since heavy, frequent rains in December and early 2009. Since Dec. 1, Chattanooga has received 14.66 inches of rain, nearly twice the normal amount for that timeframe, according to the National Weather Service.
Parts of Bradley, Polk and Monroe counties, along with portions of Murray and Fannin counties in Georgia, are the only areas in the region still classified as experiencing "moderate drought."
Jackson County, Ala., and Franklin County, Tenn., are completely free of the drought's effects, according to the map.
Still, the area is not yet out of the woods.
"You're on the brink," said Brian Boyd, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn. Both he and Dr. Romolo said the new classification is good news, but it still will be sometime before the groundwater systems are completely recharged.
"Streams respond a lot more quickly than the water table," Mr. Boyd explained. "We get into a drought over years and it's really going to take about that long to get out of it."
But for now, farmers such as Brant Crowder welcome the news, hoping the raindrops will continue through the growing season.
"We've had a semi-dry year and then two really dry years," said the Sale Creek resident, who farms 650 acres of row crops, hay and beef cattle. "We don't need another one."
The rain would have helped the crops more if it had waited until spring, Mr. Crowder explained, but the winter showers should at least add some needed moisture to the soil.
"It should get us to go into the spring in a whole lot better shape than the last few years," he said.
Overall, he maintains a positive outlook on the 2009 farming season.
"You have to be optimistic or else you wouldn't do it," he said.