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SATURDAY, JUNE 9, 2007
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Strong storms bring little drought relief

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Don't complain to John Griffith about the lack of rain.

At least not while he's standing in front of his pickup sporting a dented hood and roof. Wind gusts from a thunderstorm Friday pushed a tree onto it while he waited for a traffic light to change on Memorial Drive Southwest.

Griffith, 71, might have taken the damage in stride had the storm brought soaking rains and lifted North Alabama from its worst drought in 114 years. As it was, some parts of Decatur received about a third of an inch, while other parts got barely more than one-tenth of an inch.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has upgraded the intensity of North Alabama's drought to "exceptional," making Alabama the only state designated at the worst level, which has only a 1 or 2 percent chance of occurrence, weather officials said.

The designation came a day before Gov. Bob Riley announced a drought emergency Friday for 19 Alabama counties and requested a federal disaster declaration to make farmers eligible for aid.

"Everyone needs to conserve water whenever possible," Riley said. "I strongly encourage residents to follow the restrictions issued by their water providers and encourage those not yet under restrictions to take steps now to conserve water in their daily routines."

The U.S. Drought Monitor's area of exceptional drought, which covers an 11,500-square-mile oval of land with Cullman at the center, reaches south to include Walker, Blount, St. Clair and Jefferson counties and north to counties on the Tennessee line.

"This is the driest period from January to now in Alabama in 114 years," Alabama state climatologist John Christy said Thursday.

In his request for a federal disaster declaration, Riley said, he is confident a formal damage assessment to determine the extent of crop and livestock losses "will result in a finding that emergency conditions exist at the present time and are expected to worsen over the foreseeable future."

Public and private water systems as well as other large water users throughout the state are encouraged to carefully monitor conditions and prepare emergency procedures in the event that the situation worsens.

Drought declaration updates will continue throughout the summer as necessary and will be available on the Office of Water Resource's Web site at www.adeca.alabama.gov/water.

Robert Boyd, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville, said Friday afternoon's rains brought some North Alabama residents a few days relief from watering lawns.

Pryor Field registered 0.05 inches of rain, while a station in Southeast Decatur showed 0.12 inches and another station south of Decatur reported 0.37 inches. The storm brought sustained winds of 33 to 35 mph with gusts up to 45 mph at Pryor Field, Boyd said.

Downed trees

That's what likely toppled the tree onto Griffith's truck as well as a parked truck on Buena Vista Circle. The Morgan County 911 center also received reports of downed trees on Sparkman Road in Punkin Center and Johnson Landing Road in Talucah.

Griffith was not injured when the tree with a 3-foot diameter trunk fell.

"I got down because I thought it was going to come right through the top of my car," he said.

It left shallow but wide dents on the roof and hood and didn't break any windows. The tree took down a telephone line, and Griffith remained in the truck until Decatur Fire and Rescue workers told him he was safe from exposed power lines, which didn't fall. After firefighters cut away some limbs, Griffith was able to escape by opening the passenger door.

The three-year-old truck had only 23,000 miles on it. As sad as Griffith was to see it damaged, he was able to smile. He said he was on his way to meet coffee friends at Waffle House and often drives his 1940s Ford Coupe.

"That would have really hurt," he said, if his show car had been damaged.

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