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Forecasters say area’s rain won’t end drought

By Bayne Hughes and Seth Burkett · 340-2432

Decatur Police officer Jerry Holmes, on the Anti-Crime Unit, usually chases criminals, but Friday he was blocking Lee Street Northeast and helping coworkers unclog a drain to drop water levels in the police car parking lot across from city hall.

A soaking afternoon storm that had dropped about 1.4 inches on Decatur as of 7:15 p.m. brought back a rare but familiar sight from years past — street flooding. The storm brought out flash-flood warnings for Morgan and Limestone counties from the National Weather Service.

Forecasters said rainfall varied across the valley, with some areas such as Muscle Shoals reporting nearly 3 inches.

The bulk of the rain fell on Decatur during a 45-minute period, exceeding runoff capabilities in some areas.“I’ve been working with the police department for seven years, and this lot floods every time it rains like this because this drain gets clogged,” Holmes said.

Holmes said water got high enough to get into a detective vehicle’s trunk, but it wasn’t high enough to cause any damage. Once they unclogged the drain, the water quickly ran out of the lot.

The NWS received a report of 3 inches of water standing on U.S. 72 about three miles east of Athens.

Andy Kula, a Huntsvillebased NWS senior forecaster, said the rain helps, but the situation remains grave.

“Is it going to put a dent in the short-term drought? Yes,” Kula said. “Is it going to put a dent in the long-term drought? Probably not. This is a two or three-year drought. But this rain is going to meet a lot of short-term needs.”

NWS forecaster Dave Nadler, also of Huntsville, said the area had a good chance to get more wet weather Saturday and Sunday, “but it will be a temporary, short-term fix.”

Thunderstorms dumping heavy amounts of rain in short periods of time, causing flash flooding, will be forecasters’ main concern during the weekend. He said residents could also see high wind gusts and pennyto nickel-sized hail.

Nadler said it looks like the weather should dry out Monday and Tuesday as the area returns to the familiar hot-and-dry pattern.

According a report from The Associated Press, the state has only shown slight improvement on a federal index that rates drought conditions despite a few days of scattered showers.

Experts said Alabama remains in the grips of a disastrous drought, but that scattered showers have dropped at least a half-inch of rain in most areas, turning the grass greener in some places and giving farmers hope they may be able to salvage some crops.

The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday said 42 percent of Alabama is in an “exceptional” drought, down 2 percentage points from a week earlier. It is the first improvement in the “exceptional” drought numbers this summer.

In mid-June, 99.5 percent of the state fell into one of the government’s three worst drought classifications: “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional.” On Thursday, that number was 86 percent.

The rain in the last few days was as much as some parts of the state received in all of May. James Horton, director of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, told The Birmingham News it takes about 45 minutes of sustained rainfall to significantly benefit a lawn.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries reported that late-season vegetable and cotton crops are in poor shape, but have improved with recent rain.

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