August driest month ever in Chattanooga

August driest month ever in Chattanooga

September 1st, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Hidden Lake, in the Nature Park at the Enterprise South Industrial Park, shows the effects of a dry August.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

August was the driest month the Chattanooga area has ever seen.

Not just the driest August, but the driest page on any calendar since records were kept starting in 1928.

And nobody knows that better than Chattooga County farmer Wesley Thomas.

"Yes, we're in a drought. Yes, it's extreme," said Thomas, who raises cattle and grows sorghum and a slew of vegetables. "My grass is dead; my cattle don't have grass to eat. My crops will not and have not grown. It's a total loss of everything."

He counted seven weeks and two days since his farm had seen a single drop of rain.

Officially for August, Chattanooga received 0.01 inch of rain -- roughly the thickness of a playing card. On top of the lack of rain, Chattanooga is also in the midst of its second-hottest summer on record, according to data from the National Weather Service.

Lawns are brown. Ponds are low. Waterfalls have slowed to a trickle. Even rain barrels have gone dry.

Sam Roberts, meteorological technician with the weather service office in Morristown, Tenn., said the previous record low monthly total was 0.08 inch set in October 1938.

"It's not much [rain] at all," he said. "We need some."

Some volunteer weather watchers on the Weather Service network recorded a little more rain around the region, including about half an inch from one station on Signal Mountain.

Roberts said the culprit is a stagnant ridge of high pressure that has set up camp over the tri-state area.

"It's been so hot and dry that, by the time it gets here, a cold front is no longer a cold front," he said.

For the summer, Chattanooga is 4.35 inches behind the average rainfall and squandered a surplus of rain this spring to wind up about half an inch over the average year-to-date amount.

Paul Barys, senior meteorologist with WRCB-Channel 3, said a tropical system forming in the Gulf of Mexico could make its way to Tennessee early next week and may bring some rain.

"If we can get even an inch of rain out of it, that would be helpful," he said.

It's so dry, Labor Day campers at one Northwest Georgia campground must bring their own water because the spring that provides water for the camping area is drying up. Staff with the Chattahoochee National Forest closed bathhouses at the Lake Conasauga campsite in Murray County on Tuesday.

"The springs are just getting really low and just can't keep up with the demand up there," said Michele Jones, Conasauga district ranger for the national forest. "We just haven't had the rain to recharge that system."

The cloudless skies are a mixed blessing for local golf courses.

Wayne Orr, golf course manager at Brown Acres in Brainerd, said he and his crew are working hard to keep the fairways and greens from living up to the course's name.

"It's Brown Acres, but it literally is right now," he said. "Anywhere the sprinklers don't hit is just dead."

But on the positive side, no rain means no rainouts.

"Business-wise it's good because we're not getting any rain to shut down," said Orr.

Despite the withered crops on his farm, Thomas is also looking on the bright side. He said he'll take drought over earthquakes and hurricanes.

"When you look at what other folks are dealing with, I'm as blessed as any king in the world," he said.

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