Dry conditions worsened in the state early this week, according to federal climate scientists, who noted that midweek rain would do little to quench the drought that grips Alabama.
The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, issued Thursday morning, shows that dry conditions grew in the southwestern part of the state, with eight more counties — from Dallas County down to Mobile and east to Escambia County — classified as experiencing severe to extreme levels of drought.
The report is generated using weather information gathered up to Tuesday of the same week. That means the Drought Monitor’s latest examination included the 2.17 inches of rain that fell on the Anniston area Monday, but not Wednesday’s storms.
Together, the two events dropped nearly 3 inches of rain on Anniston, almost meeting November’s rainfall deficit.
Still, Richard Heim, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist who compiled this week’s drought report, notes that “new rain this week did little to alleviate the long-term dryness.”
Heim’s report notes that soil statewide is parched bone dry, that livestock farmers are finding it difficult to feed their animals because pastures are bare, and that soybean growers see planted pods shattering.
“Soybean pod shattering occurs as a result of hot and windy conditions and low humidity,” Heim wrote.
Those conditions have devastated Doug Trantham’s soybean crop, the Alexandria farmer said Thursday.
Trantham said he typically picks 40 bushels of the commonly planted crop per acre harvested. This year’s harvest, which finished about a month ago, yielded a fraction of that, he said.
“I picked as low as four bushels per acre on one farm,” Trantham said.
Drought has also made it easier for wildfires to spark across the state, with the Alabama Forestry Commission battling more than 2,200 such fires since Oct. 1.
Those fires have burned some 29,400 acres, and to dampen the chances of ignition, Gov. Robert Bentley in November banned outdoor burning statewide.
The ban remains in place even with this week’s rain, according to a spokeswoman for the Forestry Commission.
“The burn ban will remain in effect until next week,” Coleen Vansant said by phone, “when we see what kind of rain we get.”
The understaffed commission also is re-evaluating where it has deployed firefighters, Vansant said, given a few days of wet weather this week.
Those firefighters have used the relief to rest and to repair old equipment, said Vansant. Extra help might still be needed, especially in “hot” counties, she said, but a regional forester would make that call.
Heim’s report does hold out some short-term hope for a few days of wetness, reinforced by National Weather Service meteorologists’ predictions of rain this weekend.
Storm fronts could drop as much as 3 inches of rain between Texas and Mississippi through Monday, Heim notes. Forecasts for the week after, though, indicate dry conditions returning for all of the Southeast.
Gary Goggins, a meteorologist with the service’s office in Calera, meanwhile, says that most of the state could see between 1.25 and 1.75 inches of rain between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
Monday morning offers the chance of light showers, Goggins said, before giving way to stronger systems on Tuesday — even thunderstorms and more severe weather, he said.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on that,” said Goggins.
By Wednesday, a cold front will bring deep frost to the eastern United States, the meteorologist said, the air made more dry.
The colder and drier pattern “could be temporary,” he said, with long-range forecasts indicating more showers in store for the state.