Drought impacts grow as dry conditions persist
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – Through Thursday morning, Chattanooga is tied for the driest October on record. Gardens are struggling; farmers are hurting; and firefighters are battling brush fires all across the region.
“We’ve had more than 20,000 acres already burn in the state of Tennessee,” says Amy Maxwell with the Hamilton County Emergency Services.
“Poultry industry is okay with the water because they’ve got the wells. But as far as the livestock, uh, hay is going to be at a premium this year – and we’ve just really been hit hard,” says Charles Lancaster, the Catoosa County Agricultural Agent.
“Not being able to plant now will affect the spring also,” says Charles Lancaster.
We’ve seen below average rainfall for nine of ten months so far this year, putting the deficit at nearly 17″ in Chattanooga. Year to date, it’s the 2nd driest year in 138 years of records – only 1931 was drier.
Anne Smith is the Nursery Manager at Holcomb Garden Center. She says, “You’ll notice trees that have been here for 20, 30 years have been impacted by this drought.”
Dry trees, dry leaves, and dry brush mean the threat for wildfires has grown through the year.
“We’ve had 53 fire calls in the last 10 days here in Hamilton County,” Amy Maxwell said on Wednesday afternoon. Those calls all for brush fires or smoke.
The drought began to set in in April. Abnormally dry quickly turned to extreme drought by June, then to exceptional drought in September, expanding through northwest Georgia, into Alabama and the Chattanooga area.
Anne Smith says plants are noticing the dry conditions. She says, “There’s not any ground water per say anymore.”
Farmers normally would plant winter forages now during the fall months. But Charles Lancaster says not this year. “They can’t even do that. There’s no moisture in the ground even for that to germinate.”
Recreational fires are banned in Hamilton county and in parts of Georgia until further notice.
“Recreational fires, and burning any kind of trash fires – obviously those have been banned,” says Amy Maxwell. She also says the penalties for burning anything in Hamilton county right now are steep. “According to the Air Pollution Control, it can be penalties up to $25,000.”
The drought feeds on itself and feeds the heat – Chattanooga saw a record 51 consecutive days where the temperature did not drop below 70°, even at night time. And we saw a record 102 days at 90° or higher – that’s 34% of the year so far.
“A lot of people didn’t realize how bad their yard was until they stepped out as soon as the temperatures cooled off.” says Anne Smith.
From the farming perspective, Charles Lancaster says it doesn’t look good. “Looking on in to the winter, they’re going to be on hard times,” he says.
Most of the recent fires have started as unattended campfires – a preventable cause. “When we have these fires that can be preventable, it alleviates our fire fighters from having to put these fires out and potentially injure themselves. It also alleviates the potential loss of property or even loss of life. Or even keeping them from being home with their families,” says Amy Maxwell.
Smith has tips for homeowners looking to help their plants through the drought. “You can put a soaker hose underneath the mulch and never have to see it. You connect a feeder hose to it 2 or 3 times a week. And what that’s going to do – that’s going to keep the water at the bottom where the roots are, and that’s where you need it, not over the top of the plant,” she says.
“Watering a plant over the top of the plant in the excessive heat we saw this summer, you probably have seen a lot of scorching on the leaves. A lot of things have gotten fungus from that. By just watering at the root, you aren’t going to have that problem. ”
The nearly 17″ rainfall deficit across Hamilton county alone is equivalent to more than 169 billion gallons of water – enough water to fill over 257,000 Olympic sized swimming pools