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Drought replaced by heavy rain, flooding

Too little rain turns into too much of a good thing

Just when the southern part of state looked likely to go through a third year of drought, Tropical Storm Allison hit in early June dropping up to nine inches of rain on the Coast and causing hundreds of houses to flood and wrecking havoc with the recently opened shrimp season.

Several shrimp boats capsized during heavy weather, and shrimping in much of the Mississippi Sound was closed after the large amount of rainfall flushed juvenile shrimp from bayous and bays into the Sound.

Shrimping activities were curtailed because of the large numbers of shrimp too small to harvest.

The tropical storm was the “trump card” that changed the entire outlook for drought during the summer of 2001 in the previously moisture-starved areas of the state south of Jackson.

“It has effectively ended the drought,” said Jay Grymes, regional climatologist with the Louisiana State University Southern Regional Climate Center. “All the time whenever we have talk about the possibility of a summer drought on the Gulf Coast, we always have this trump card out there, a tropical system that can change all the rules in a matter of days.”

The Southern part of the state received almost no rainfall in April and May, leading to serious concerns about a third year of summer drought. Residents of North Gulfport were asked to voluntarily stop watering lawns during the daytime, and there were concerns that industries in Jackson County that use a lot of water could be impacted if there was a repeat of drought in the summer of 2001.

But Tropical Storm Allison, a surprise storm, delivered enough water to effectively make up for the moisture deficits of April and May. Prior to Allison, Grymes and other climatologists were concerned that the forecast called for normal rainfall for the summer, which wouldn’t make up for the lack of water in the April and May, normally wet months.

“Now a normal summer will give us what we need and even a dryer than normal summer won’t be as harmful as if we hadn’t seen five to seven to 10 inches of rain, like some places did,” Grymes said. “There may be some residual impacts from the drought but those aren’t so much related to lack of available water, but a matter of how the prolonged drought over weeks, months and years in the coastal counties may have impacted the environment. For example, trees may still be slow to respond after stress caused by two to three years of drought. Clearly they aren’t going to rebound immediately just because of excessive rains.”

For the most part the rain alleviated the moisture shortages in shallower reaches of soil, which should improve the outlook for agriculture.

The summer of 2000 saw records broken for heat and lack of rainfall in the southern part of Mississippi and in other Southeastern states. Farmers were particularly hard hit. And although not as obvious, the drought also greatly affected forestry by reducing tree growth and causing higher seedling mortality.

Drought intensifies itself, feeding the bad pattern. Less rainfall means less cloud cover and more direct sunshine. All that makes it hotter, which makes it dryer. In 1998, 1999 and 2000, the drought that affected large areas of the Southeast was blamed on a weather phenomenon called La Nina, which changes weather patterns as a result of cooler water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean. In 2001, La Nina was gone but the drought pattern continued until Tropical Storm Allison hit.

Grymes said the cause of the drought earlier this year was persistent high pressure, but it wasn’t known what was causing the persistent high pressure. He said the drought possibly was a random occurrence not linked to any specific global weather pattern.

David Waide, president, Mississippi Farm Bureau, said areas of the state that didn’t have enough rain in the spring were having problems with adequate germination and with providing adequate forage for livestock. He said livestock operations were the most affected. The rains were particularly welcome for producers who said that they couldn’t survive without normal production this year. Numerous producers throughout the state said if they don’t have a normal crop this year, it won’t be possible to get production financing next year.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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