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Alabama Drought 2012: Dry Conditions Now Afflict Over 90 Percent Of The State

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The abnormally dry conditions parching Alabama now cover more than 90 percent of the state, with many metropolitan areas more than a foot below normal rainfall totals for the year, according to a new analysis released Thursday.

The situation is worst in eastern Alabama, where all but a few counties are in a severe or extreme drought. The latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor shows coastal southwest Alabama is the only section of the state not experiencing a large rainfall deficit.

Arid conditions are classified as exceptionally bad in parts of Barbour and Henry counties in the state's southeastern corner, where not even a blast of tropical weather would be enough to return rainfall totals to near normal, said John Christy, the state climatologist.

"It's a long-term drought, in that they never came out of it from last year. It's going to take not just one hurricane but three months of above-average rainfall to end that," said Christy, who works at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

In all, about 91 percent of the state is either abnormally dry or in a full-blown drought.

The cities of Birmingham and Montgomery each are more than a foot below normal for precipitation for the year, and Huntsville, Decatur and Muscle Shoals all are more than 15.5 inches short of rain. Rainfall in Anniston is almost 15 inches below normal, and Tuscaloosa is about 15 inches below normal.

Streams all over the state are down to only 2 percent or less of their normal flow of water, Christy said, and it could take months for water levels to return to anywhere near normal for a prolonged period.

"Summer is a time of normal (rainfall) deficits," said Christy. "When you get into a deficit this time of year it is so hard to make up because streams and plants are competing for water."

Forestry officials say there's an increased threat of wildfires because of the dry conditions, and farmers are relying on irrigation to sustain crops in some areas, particularly the bone-dry southeastern corner of Alabama.

"Those who can water are watering," said Brandon Dillard, a regional agronomist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for 12 counties in southeastern Alabama. "We're really needing water right now."

Cotton, soybean and peanut crops are all at a delicate stage where plants are in need of large amounts of water, he said, and afternoon storms are helping some.

"I looked at a field yesterday that was dusty and dry, but you drive 300 yards down and they've had some rain," he said. "It's spotty."

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