Record Early Year Rains May Thwart Potential Summer Drought
For the second year in a row, late winter and early spring were more like monsoon season in West Alabama. The Tuscaloosa /Northport area has recorded 37.24 inches of rainfall so far this year. That is 17.33 inches above normal through the first four months of 2020. On average Tuscaloosa receives 53 inches of rain for an entire year.
So far this year Tuscaloosa has set records for both the number of days that rainfall has been recorded and the amount of inches accumulated across the region. The National Weather Service in Birmingham recorded rain in Tuscaloosa on 33 of the 63 days between Jan. 1 and March 3. That is two more than the previous record of 31 inches established in 1957.
The only area of the state to top Tuscaloosa/Northport in rainfall this year has been the Birmingham metro area. The 38.74 inches there are 19.11 inches above normal.
Looking at the latest Drought Monitor from the Southeastern Climate Data Center, National Weather Service Birmingham Meteorologist Jason Holmes believes it may be a good thing to be so far on the plus side of precipitation. " We had a good bit of rain activity earlier this year but more recently, over the last month or so, we have had lower rainfall amounts." Holmes stated. "Because of that we are beginning to see a little bit of a creep up in the drought activity, particularly along the Alabama Gulf Coast. All sites in the state have a surplus of rainfall but areas Montgomery southward have much smaller surpluses."
Surpluses in south Alabama are beginning to disappear. Central Mobile and Baldwin counties southward to the coast are already in a Moderate Drought. According to the Drought Monitor, this means, "There is the possibility of some damage to crops and pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells are at low levels and some water shortages could be developing or imminent; and voluntary water-use restrictions may be requested.”
Abnormally dry conditions extend from upper Mobile and Baldwin counties north into southern Washington, Clark and Monroe counties and western Escambia county. These conditions are spreading along the Central Gulf Coast States and the climate center reminds us we are beginning to move into the dryer months of the year.
In early 2019 extreme rainfall in West Alabama left rivers in flood stage for days, inundating property and homes along their banks.The upside was the excessive rainfall prevented the spread of extreme drought conditions into Tuscaloosa County. That drought resulted in extensive crop damage in the Wiregrass Region of southeast Alabama upwards into central sections of the state.
While farmers in West Alabama have had plenty of soil moisture again this year, Southeastern Climate Center data reveals a bit of a retreat in soil moisture over the last few weeks. However, West Alabama soils continue to be classified as "wet".
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center "8 to 14 Day Outlook" for West Alabama is forecasting a slightly above normal chance for rain but not in the significantly heavy amounts we experienced earlier in the year.
West Alabama is not expected to get more than a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch of rainfall from a cold front moving through the area Friday.
It is still too early to predict another summer drought across the state but meteorologists looking ahead believe it is possible. It will just take longer to develop, if at all, in West Alabama. But all bets are off in a tropical storm or hurricane makes landfall and moves inland.