State climatologists say the ongoing drought in some areas of Alabama is a phenomenon seen roughly once in a lifetime.
The U.S. Drought Monitor rates stricken areas on a scale of D1 to D4, four being areas of exceptional drought. Northeast and north-central Alabama including Jefferson County are at a D3 or above.
“For the places that are in the D4 and even some of the D3 category, which is severe to exceptional drought, these experience such a situation about once every 50 to 100 years,” says John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.
October is typically the driest month of the year for Alabama with an average rainfall of about three inches, but the state has had little to no rain for several months.
Some of the hardest hit are cattle ranchers who grow their own hay, Christy says. The drought has impacted the hay harvest season yielding low crops and forcing some ranchers to either sell their cattle or buy hay, which is expensive.
In the Birmingham metro area, water officials are asking customers to reduce water usage or face an extensive surcharge.
Birmingham Water Works general manager Mack Underwood outlined the utility’s stage three drought management plan today on the dry shores of Lake Purdy – one of the area’s main water sources. Underwood says the plan requires customers to water outdoor areas one day a week.
“Even numbered houses water on Monday. Odd numbered houses should water on Friday,” he says. “Anybody with a new lawn is exempt for 20 days. So for the first 20 days of putting in a new lawn you can water every day.”
Residents who do not keep water consumption below 9000 gallons [per month] will begin seeing surcharges on or after November 19, Underwood says.
“We really don’t want to have to charge them the 200 percent. So if they keep that consumption below 12 Ccf, or 9000 gallons, we won’t have to charge that,” he adds. “But we are seriously going to charge that if it’s over that amount.”
Lake Purdy’s levels have dropped to about 30 percent of normal capacity due to a lack of rainfall over the last few months. Governor Robert Bentley issued a drought emergency for 46 of Alabama’s 67 counties including Jefferson and Shelby.