Leaves dry

A stubborn late-summer drought brings no subtle change to woodland leaves, as shown along Bains Gap Road Thursday.

A bone-dry September has led to drought across more than 80 percent of Alabama, according to observations released Thursday.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which tracks rainfall, soil moisture and temperature across the country, in its weekly update showed nearly the entire state as at least “abnormally dry” in its five-level scale of drought conditions.

Alex Sizemore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Calera, said the Climate Prediction Center expects the current drought to expand within the next week or two and run through the rest of the year. 

“The good news is the forecast changes all the time, so hopefully the next time they take a look at this, it will be better news,” said Sizemore.

 October is typically the driest month of the year, Sizemore said, which doesn't help matters much.

“Right now, for the foreseeable future, there’s no relief in sight, unfortunately,” he said.

Much of Calhoun, Cleburne and Talladega  counties are under “moderate drought” conditions, according to the drought monitor. That level of dryness can impact crop growth and yield, may lead national forests to ban campfires, reduce water levels in streams and ponds and lead to more fires.

 The severity of the drought is determined by a combination of temperature trends, precipitation and soil moisture, according to Sizemore.

According to Sizemore, the last measurable rainfall in Anniston — and the only time rain was recorded for the month — was on Sept. 13, when 0.42 of an inch was recorded at the Anniston Regional Airport.

Sizemore said a large chunk of the United States from east of the Mississippi River and south of the Ohio River has been abnormally hot and dry.

“Cleburne and Calhoun counties have stepped on board with the rest of the Southeast,” Sizemore said. 

Elisha Ballentine, public information manager for the Alabama Forestry Commission, said the current statewide fire alert might be upgraded to a burn ban if the dry conditions worsen.

The last time a burn ban was in effect was two years ago, she said.

“We had this same type situation but it was worse then, if we don’t get rain we may be heading back to those same conditions,” said Ballentine.

She said it’s a bad idea to burn anything right now.

 “You are always responsible for your own fire. If you have a fire no matter what size, if it gets out the person who started it is responsible,” said Ballentine.

During the current fire alert, burn permits, which are required to burn more than one quarter of an acre, are very limited and issued at the discretion of the State Forester, Ballentine said.

Dan Hopkins, Hollis Fire Department chief, said that the dry conditions have caused an uptick in fires.

“In the last three weeks we’ve had more brush fires that we’ve had all year,” Hopkins said.

One of the recent fires was caused by a careless motorist who tossed a cigarette out of the window. 

Hopkins said to exercise caution when burning anything because the wind can carry sparks.

“All of a sudden we have a full-blown woods fire,” said Hopkins. 

Patrick Nolen, chief of the Turkey Heaven Volunteer Fire Department in Cleburne County, said the department has only been called to few fires in the last couple of weeks.

“The biggest problem being the conditions are so dry, extinguishing them are nearly impossible,” said Nolen.

Nolen said that earlier this week the fire department responded to a brush fire that turned into a building fire that melted siding off a residence. A neighbor called 911 after seeing and smelling the smoke. 

“If it wasn't for people watching for one another, a home would have been lost due to a brush fire,” said Nolen. 

Nolen recommends to have no flames outdoors until the area receives sufficient rainfall.

“Even cooking outdoors poses a threat of fire with these conditions,” said Nolen. 

The heat and lack of rain is also affecting Alabama Power lake levels according to a press release issued on Thursday from Michael Sznajderman, Alabama Power spokesman. 

“Despite an extremely wet winter season, the dry conditions that have developed are now negatively affecting the flows in rivers and streams that feed Alabama Power’s reservoirs,” said Herbie Johnson, Alabama Power Hydro general manager. “Along with the below-normal rainfall, heat and evaporation are also having an impact.”

Alabama Power has reduced water releases from its hydroelectric dams, to the extent allowed by the company’s federal licenses. 

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.