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Latest drought information indicates deteriorating conditions in the Tennessee Valley

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Coming off the end of 2016, the Tennessee Valley experienced a serious rainfall deficit of 9 to 12 inches.


It is now about 6 weeks into the 2017, and while the year started off with decent rainfall, the month of February is running about 1 to 1.75 inches below average with respect to the amount of rain that Huntsville and Muscle Shoals have received.

Year to date, both climate reporting stations are showing a rainfall deficit of nearly half to one inch.

For that reason, the latest drought conditions within the Valley show a slight deterioration compared to the previous week.

AXUS74 KHUN 161843

Drought Information Statement
National Weather Service Huntsville AL
1243 PM CST Thu Feb 16 2017

...Despite some recent rainfall, streamflow and soil moisture
conditions along with other drought indices indicate that drought 
conditions have degraded slightly since last week... 

Synopsis... According to the 
Drought Monitor valid Tuesday, February 14, 2017, Severe Drought (D2)
conditions remain across southern and eastern portions of the 
Huntsville County Warning and Forecast Area (CWFA). The main change 
that was noted from this time last week was the expansion of D2 
conditions northwestward into portions of Morgan, Lawrence, and 
extreme eastern Colbert counties in Northwestern Alabama. The severe 
drought conditions are now occurring generally along and south of a 
line from Ider in northern DeKalb County, to Guntersville, Arab, 
Decatur, and Courtland. This includes much of DeKalb, Marshall and 
Morgan Counties, nearly all of Lawrence County and all of Cullman 
County. Elsewhere, Moderate Drought /D1/ conditions were prevalent 
across northern Alabama, with the exception of a small portion of 
Lauderdale County, which is still under an Abnormally Dry /D0/ 
designation. In southern Middle Tennessee, there was no change from 
this time last week. Conditions are designated as Abnormally Dry, 
with the exception of a small portion of southeastern Franklin 
County, which is still under a Moderate Drought designation.

Note: Precipitation and other conditions (streamflows, soil
moisture,etc.) that determine drought designations each week for the
U.S. Drought Monitor are based on data that end at 6AM CST each 
Tuesday. So, any precipitation that falls after the 6AM cutoff is not
factored into designations for that week, but will of course be 
factored into designations for the following weekly issuance. Also, 
the designation of a drought is a multi-faceted process that includes
numerous data from a variety of physical systems on different space 
and time scales, which include precipitation, soil moisture, 
streamflows, various drought indices, and groundwater, just to name a

Summary of Impacts...
State and local declarations: The Alabama Department of Economic and
Community Affairs (ADECA) Office of Water Resources placed all of the 
counties in the Huntsville CWA, with the exception of Cullman 
County, in a Drought Advisory as of the January 26th declaration. 
Cullman County is in a Drought Watch. This is a vast improvement from
the entire Huntsville CWFA included in a 'Drought Emergency' late
last year through early this year. 

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) had been in a State
of Emergency due to the dry conditions and wildfires that had taken 
place, especially in southeastern parts of the state. However, the
State Emergency Operations Center activation level has now been
changed to five, which is the normal operations level. 

Agricultural Impacts...
Since the primary growing season has not begun yet in the region, 
Crop and Progress Condition Reports are not currently being issued 
from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. These
reports are expected to resume in April. Nevertheless, D3 and D4 
drought conditions during the growing season last year resulted in 
Disaster Declarations for all of the counties in the Huntsville CWA 
as Primary Natural Disaster Areas due to damages/losses caused by the
recent drought. This includes the counties of Colbert, Cullman, 
Dekalb, Franklin (AL), Franklin (TN), Jackson, Lauderdale, Lincoln 
(TN), Madison, Marshall, Moore (TN), Morgan, Lawrence, and Limestone.

Fire Danger Impacts...
Currently, there are no burn restrictions from the Alabama Forestry
Commission (AFC). Nevertheless, the AFC advises anyone conducting
outdoor burning to follow safety precautions. Any fire more than a
quarter acre in size or within 25 feet of a forested area requires a
permit from the AFC. 

The State of Tennessee rescinded their burn ban on December 19,
2016. There are no Commissioner of Agriculture Burn Bans currently 
in effect in the state. However, a Debris Burning Permit from the 
Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry is required 
through May 15, 2017 to burn leaf and brush piles for residents in 
Franklin, Lincoln, and Moore Counties. Citizens may obtain Burn 
Permits by going to 

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) available from the U.S. Forest
Service Wildland Fire Assessment System shows that values are below 
200 across the entire region.

Other Impacts...
During the height of the drought last Fall, local news reported that
many home foundation repair businesses in Northern Alabama were busy
because dry conditions had caused large cracks and other damage to 
home foundations. Also, County Officials especially in Northwestern 
Alabama reported that large numbers of cracks had appeared on 
roadways due to the drought. This included portions of the Natchez 
Trace Parkway in Northwestern Alabama in adjacent areas. Recently,
on January 24, 2017, the County Engineer of Colbert County reported 
that drought damage to roads was continuing and that a crack sealing 
machine would be required to repair the cracks. Meanwhile, hay and 
forage were reported to be in short supply across parts of the state,
as drought conditions led many farmers to postpone or even skip the 
planting of winter grazing. Alabama farmers have been purchasing hay 
from across the Southeast to feed livestock. 

Climate Summary...
Over the past week, temperatures have averaged above normal. In fact,
of the last 7 days, only one was observed as 'below normal', and it
was in the wake of a weak cold front that pushed across the area on
the 8th into the 9th. Since that time, temperatures have soared to
around 15 to 20 degrees above normal on some days! Another cold 
front pushed across the area on Valentine's Day, with temperatures 
falling from the 60s back into the lower/middle 50s, which is near 
normal for this time of year. Precipitation has been generally light 
during the last week, aside from around a quarter of an inch with 
the most recent cold front in many locations, to lesser amounts with 
the cold front back on the 8th and 9th. Precipitation values with 
that frontal passage were generally around a tenth of an inch or 
less. Normal weekly rainfall for this time of year is around 1 to 
1.25 inches.

Over the last 30 days, precipitation has generally been near to below
normal in northwestern Alabama and above normal in eastern parts of
the area, including southern middle Tennessee. Temperatures have 
averaged well above normal during the period. Normal monthly 
precipitation for this time of year is around 4.5 to 5 inches. 

Longer-term precipitation deficits remain, which is part of the
reason for the continuing drought designations across the area. On
180-day time scales (going back to mid September), precipitation 
deficits are still around eight to ten inches across large portions 
of the area...especially coincident with the Severe Drought 
designated areas, but also across much of northwestern Alabama. 
Precipitation deficits are still around four to eight inches across 
much of the remainder of the area during this same period. Although,
precipitation deficits are smallest in Franklin County, TN, where
rainfall is near to about 2-3 inches below normal for the past six

Longer-term temperatures have averaged well above normal for most of
the last year which helped lead to the development and sustenance of
drought conditions. While this past fall ranked as the warmest on 
record at both Huntsville and Muscle Shoals (and second at 
Scottsboro), annual temperatures for 2016 overall were the warmest on
record, edging out the old record for 2015 by one whole degree!

The warm trend is continuing so far in 2017. January was among the 
top ten warmest Januaries on record at many locations, and was third
warmest at Huntsville. Temperatures so far during February are 
averaging around 6 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. 

Precipitation/Temperature Outlook...
Temperatures will be near normal to start the period, with
temperatures warming through the rest of the week and into the
weekend ahead. Daytime highs for Sunday through Tuesday will be in 
the lower 70s at many locations, with morning lows in the lower 50s.
This is about 15 to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year. 
Though a couple of chances for precipitation exist during the next 7 
days, amounts will remain rather light, with generally less than a 
quarter of an inch of rainfall expected. 

The Outlook for Week Two (February 23rd to March 1st) from the
Climate Prediction Center (CPC) moderately favors above normal 
temperatures, with equal chances for below, near or above normal 

The latest Monthly Outlook for March from the CPC moderately favors 
above normal temperatures and above normal precipitation during the 

The latest Seasonal Outlook for the March through May period from the
CPC strongly favors above normal temperatures, with equal chances for
below, near or above normal precipitation. 

Hydrologic Summary and Outlook...
River and creek streamflows have wavered from above normal to below
normal during the last couple of months. Heavy rains during the
fourth week of January led to significant rises on most creeks and
rivers. However, river and stream levels fell significantly again
during early February. Rivers have experienced fluctuations in flows
due to rainfall over the last couple of weeks, but overall, 7-day 
average streamflow values remain low for this time of year. Below are
some 7-day average streamflow percentiles from across the area:

Bear Creek............1st percentile 
Big Nance Creek.......4th percentile
Cypress Creek.........4th percentile 
Sipsey Fork...........8th percentile 
Limestone Creek.......22nd percentile 
Paint Rock River......23rd percentile
Mulberry Fork.........29th percentile 
Flint River...........30th percentile 

Lake and river levels along the heavily regulated Tennessee River
system have largely been unaffected by drought conditions over the 
last year and are operating within normal pool levels. However, Tims
Ford Lake continues to operate above the normal guide curve for this
time of year. Lewis Smith Lake is also operating a little above the 
normal guide curve for this time of year.

According to the CPC, the latest Daily Soil Moisture rankings
continue to indicate very low values for this time of year. As of
February 15th, soil moisture rankings were generally around the 1st
to 5th percentiles across about the eastern half of the area, and
only in the 5th to 10th percentiles in the western half. 

The U.S. Geological Survey groundwater well site in Cullman County
shows that groundwater levels fell below the daily median value
during the March to late April period and have since remained below
average since that time. Water levels have climbed steadily since
late January, but are still about five feet below the median 
statistic for this time of year. 

Groundwater levels at the monitoring site in Lawrence County 
declined rapidly from early September into late November, but rose 
sharply after heavy rainfall in late November into early December. 
Since early December, well water depths at this location have been
near the median statistic. 

Next issuance date...
The next Drought Statement will be issued Thursday, February 23, 


Related Web Sites...(use lower case)

U.S. Drought Monitor webpage:

Climate Prediction Center:

For information about Alabama Drought Declarations, visit:

For information from the Alabama Forestry Commission, visit:

Wildfire information from the Alabama Forestry Commission:

Radar estimated precipitation amounts can be obtained here:

Streamflows are obtained from the USGS here:

Lake levels for the Tennessee River can be obtained here:

USGS groundwater well site information for Alabama:


Some data used in this statement were provided by the U.S.
of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Tennessee Valley
Authority, and the States of Alabama and Tennessee. 

Questions or Comments...

For questions or comments on the drought, please contact:
National Weather Service Huntsville
320A Sparkman Drive
Huntsville, AL 35805
Phone: 256-890-8503