Drought said to be history

Friday, May 15, 2009
WTVF Channel 5 weatherman Charlie Neese, left, confers with Darlene Hall, center rear, as Cody Street, center front, programs a radio for Doug Tyree, seated right, as Maxine Mays, right, waits for her weather radio to be programmed.

Extensive rain this month has apparently ended the drought that was so damaging that Marshall County's Board of Public Utilities made water available at no charge to residents two summers ago.

"It looks like all the drought conditions are over here," National Weather Service Hydrologist James LaRosa said during an interview in Lewisburg on Tuesday when asked if the ground water has been replenished.

"Yes," LaRosa said. "But east of here, on the higher terrain, it will take more to replenish those" water tables.

"Every drought is followed by a flood," National Weather Service Hydrologist James LaRosa said during an interview in Lewisburg on Tuesday. "It's something I learned in my first year with the Weather Service."

It's a lesson that's proved to be true, he said after eight years with the service.

After the summer of 2007, the drought had been seen as a five-year event, but that projection now seems more pessimistic than realistic. The drought was, however, a serious problem here and in other counties that comprise the Duck River Watershed.

Some farmers felt compelled to sell their cattle because of a lack of water. For them, it was an awful loss since they'd worked for more than a decade to refine the quality of their herd.

In Coffee County, Normandy Lake dropped so low that the electronic measuring system for the level of the reservoir couldn't report the surface altitude above sea level, and broad areas of that basin were exposed.

"Normandy and down through the watershed look pretty good now," LaRosa said, reflecting on the recent rain.

"Some places had 12 inches of rain since May 1," he continued. "In this area, I think most got 5-6 inches and then 3-4."

Those two storms brought about 7-10 inches of rain when the normal monthly rainfall would be about 5-6 inches in May, LaRosa said.

TVA officials operating Normandy Dam "tried to keep as much water as they could, but once the reservoir filled up, they had to start releasing water," the hydrologist said.

The lake's level is at its target level now, he said.

LaRosa was interviewed at the Kroger grocery when the store was selling weather radios in conjunction with one of the on-going events across Middle Tennessee conducted by WTVF Channel 5 and the grocery.

"These are good radios," LaRosa said. "The sound quality is good. The programmability is what you want.'

And that was the chief reason for the event.

Some mass manufactured radios come programmed to pickup any Weather Service radio signal that's strong enough to be received. That's been a problem for some folks.

"We bought this a few years ago and it must have been programmed for the whole state because it went off...," said John O'Neal of White drive who went to the grocery on South Ellington Parkway. "At night, it'll wake you up alright.

"They programmed it for Maury and Marshall counties," O'Neal said.

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians from the county's ambulance service, firefighters from across the county, volunteers, police, and other officials showed up to help at Kroger. Volunteers included members of the Marshall County Ham Radio Operators organization.

"We were asked by our chief to come up and help out and so we figured we could," Berlin Fire Department Firefighter Wes Barron said. Farmington-Rich Creek Firefighter Jerry Reynolds said every department "is involved in things like this."

The transmitter for this area is just west of the Marshall County line in Maury County.

"My brother, has one which can be customized for just where he lives down in Florida where that's important," said Kurtz Stiteler of Lewisburg. "I guarantee you this will wake you from a sound sleep. It has a loud beeping signal."

Jeanetta O'Neal of White Drive says the radio she and her husband, John, have "has been going off for an Amber Alert" about missing children.

Maxine Mays of Chapel Hill was one of the people who bought one of the 200 radios stocked at Kroger on Tuesday.

"I want to know when the tornadoes are coming," said Mays who's never been injured or suffered property damage from the storm. "It could be" because she faithfully attends the West End Church of Christ in Chapel Hill, she said.

Otherwise, she's been listening to commercial radio and News Channel 5, May said when her sister, Janice Dalton of South Nashville arrived to buy a radio.

"I think it will be better" than watching or listening to broadcasters, she said, explaining that the radio comes on automatically with warnings while the TV and other radios might be turned off.

"I sleep so sound," she said.

LaRosa agreed that the weather radios might be a little faster than commercially broadcast weather reports because of the automatic feature.

"Weather radios might be faster than TV," the Weather Service hydrologist said. "But not by much. We'll put out a warning and they'll have it on TV seconds later.

"But it's better than not having the TV on because it will sound an alert and report without having to be put on," LaRosa said.

Publicity for the Weather Radio Day in local and regional media attracted hundreds of people to the grocery.

Approximately 150 radios were sold at nearly $30 each, Marshall County Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Hopkins said on Thursday, noting that another storm front was coming in and it might deliver a quarter of an inch of rainfall.

As for whether the drought is over, Hopkins said, "Ask me in a couple of weeks.

"But, I'm not a hydrologist," he said.