Summer rains helped duck hunters as drought conditions return to Georgia

By David Pendered

Georgia’s rainfall continues to swing sharply. Just as Georgia wildlife officials said rainfall this year created good hunting conditions for the duck season that opened Saturday, federal weather forecasters said drought conditions are looming.

duck hunting

Duck hunting is a big industry in Georgia. At the Pine Hill Plantation, southwest of Bainbridge, a 45-minute duck hunt can be added at a minimum of $700 for a group of four, who have paid a total of $6,600 a day to hunt quail. Credit: pinehillplantation.com

The good news for bird hunters came Nov. 17 from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“Duck and goose hunters should have no problems this year finding hunting spots that have water and provide habitat for migratory ducks and geese,” Greg Balkcom, a state waterfowl biologist said in a statement.

That’s because the wetlands and ponds that attract ducks were filled with rainfall earlier this year.

“Last year many of the managed wetlands that provide habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl on state-operated Wildlife Management Areas were dry,” Balkcom said. “But this year conditions are much better due to summer rains and fall hurricanes. [State]-managed impoundments are flooded or near full, with good food production.”

Meanwhile, the lack of rain across the state prompted federal forecasters to display a drought map on their YouTube video, the first time that map has appeared in some time.

“It looks like this graphic is going to become a mainstay,” Todd Hamill, a service coordination hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Southeast River Forecast Center said on camera.

drought graphic, released 11:16:17

Drought conditions reappeared this month in Georgia. Credit: droughtmonitor.unl.edu

That’s because recent rainfall has been below normal, Hamill said.

“Much of the Southeast is below normal for this time of year,” Hamill said. “Drought is starting to creep into the area. Rainfall in the top of the Savannah basin hasn’t been as helpful as we’d have liked, to build the reservoirs, because of the timinig of the rainfall. Hopefully, in December and January we might see improvement.”

Chris Schaffer, a senior hydrometerologist and Hamill’s partner on the video, observed that the prediction isn’t for a total lack of rainfall. Rather, the forecast is that chances for above-average rainfall have diminished.

Schaffer said the rainy season in the Southeast is from December through March, and that’s when reservoirs and other water bodies get most of the water necessary to be refilled to normal pool levels.

At Lake Lanier, the water level Monday afternoon was reported at 1,065.62 feet above sea level. That’s 5.38 below the full pool of 1,071. The lake is about 4.5 feet higher than at this time last year, and 6 feet lower than at this time in 2015, according to a report by lanier.uslakes.info.

Lake Lanier is a bellwether for water levels in North Georgia.

duck retrieval

Summer rains and hurricanes helped fill wetlands and ponds where this duck hunter awaited his target. Credit: youtube.com

The U.S. Drought Monitor also is warning of abnormally dry weather patterns across the Southeast. From a report released Nov. 14, the latest available, the monitor reports:

  • “With 30- and 60-day precipitation shortfalls steadily increasing, broad [abnormally dry] expansion was introduced across much of the southern half of Georgia….
  • “More modest expansion of moderate drought affected Georgia, both near the central South Carolina border and in southwestern parts of the state. Little or no rain fell during the past month in parts of northern Florida and southern Georgia, and totals for the past 60 days are near or below half of normal in most of the dry areas.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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