Dried creek bed of Hawks Branch in Woodville, Alabama. Photo: Bob Gathany / al.com

31 October 2016 (AP) – Six months into a deepening drought, the weather is killing crops, threatening cattle and sinking lakes to their lowest levels in years across much of the South.

The very worst conditions — what forecasters call "exceptional drought" — are in the mountains of northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia, a region known for its thick green forests, waterfalls and red clay soil.

"Here at my farm, April 15 was when the rain cut off," said David Bailey, who had to sell half his cattle, more than 100 animals, for lack of hay in Alabama's scorched northeast corner.

"We've come through some dry years in the '80s, but I never seen it this dry, this long," Bailey added. "There's a bunch of people in a lot of bad shape here."

The drought has spread from these mountains onto the Piedmont plateau, down to the plains and across 13 southern states, from Oklahoma and Texas to Florida and Virginia, putting about 33 million people in drought conditions, according to Thursday's U.S. Drought Monitor.

Wildfires raged Thursday near Birmingham, Alabama. Statewide, the blazes have charred more than 12,000 acres in the past 30 days.

"There are places getting ready to set records for most numbers of days in a row without rain. It's a once-in-100-year kind of thing for this time of year," said John Christy, Alabama's state climatologist. […]

"This is the worst drought that I've ever experienced and I've been farming for 45 years," said Phillip Thompson, 60, who spent Tuesday night trying to snuff out a smoldering, 150-acre brush fire near Scottsboro, Alabama, where he farms corn and soybeans. "It's just a bleak situation."

Drought Deepens in Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia

U.S. Drought Monitor for Alabama, 25 October 2016. Graphic: David Simeral / Western Regional Climate Center

By Paul Gattis
23 October 2016

(al.com) – Sitting in the northeast corner of the state, Jackson County is ground zero for Alabama's drought that's now consumed the entire state. While dry conditions and sparse rain have spread from the Shoals to the coast, Jackson County has suffered longer and harder than any other region.

"It's an agricultural disaster," said Jackson County farmer Phillip Thompson.

"It's epic. It's really bad," said Themika Sims, Jackson County coordinator of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

What does a harsh drought look like at ground zero?

  • Crop yields are only about one-third of what they usually are for this year, Thompson said.
  • The lack of rain has killed grazing areas, which has forced farmers to begin feed hay to their cattle six months earlier than normal. And that creates concern for having enough hay to last the winter.
  • With no income because of no crops to sell, farmers can't spend money, which undermines the local economy.
  • Hundreds of wildfires have scorched the rural county, Scottsboro fire chief Gene Necklaus said.
  • Jackson County predominantly has a shallow soil base, Sims said, which means it could be vulnerable to damaging erosion once the rain returns.

"We just visited a farm this week and the farmer, he was 85 years old, and he said he's been farming all his life and he said it's the worst he's ever seen," Sims said.

Thompson raises soybeans, corn, cattle and cuts hay on his 500-acre farm near Woodville.

"I'm not going to make any money at all this year," Thompson said. "I've been a farmer for 45 years. Probably three years out of 45 that I've failed to make any income. But I didn't really necessarily go backward. This year, I'm looking to be behind the eight-ball. I'm going to be going backward."

This is what it looks like at ground zero of Alabama's drought.

The drought truly began in May in Alabama, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought monitor's alarming shades of orange, eventually giving way to red and eventually a menacing shade of dark red all began in Jackson County before filtering down to surrounding counties, then the central part of the state and finally all the way to Mobile.

The latest update from the drought monitor last week declared that 98.48 percent of the state was suffering from some type of drought.

For Jackson County, it's been exceptional drought – the drought monitor's highest level – for two weeks now and, before that, extreme drought since July. [more]

At ground zero of Alabama's drought: 'It's an agricultural disaster'



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