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As region's heat soars, drought coming back

By Paul Huggins 340-2395

July brought near normal rainfall to the Decatur area, alleviating some of the exceptional drought conditions in the western part of North Alabama.

But what little relief July brought appears to be evaporating in a week.

Temperatures are climbing above the mid-90s, and even overnight lows are staying above 70.

Friday's high in Decatur, according to the National Weather Service, was 97, which is the hottest day so far this summer. The record high for the date is 104, set in 1957.The dry weather and hotter temperatures are worsening the Decatur area's air quality, too. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management issued an orange alert for Saturday, meaning it's unhealthy for sensitive groups to be outdoors.

"Now it's the heat, in addition to the lack of rain that's getting us," said Ronald Britnell, regional extension agent in Hartselle.

"I'm getting lots of reports of (pond) fish kills. I'm probably getting 10 calls a day from people wanting to know what to do with their fish."

Statewide, July rains reduced the exceptional drought conditions (meaning worst in 50 years) from 43 percent of the state June 28 to 18 percent July 24. By July 31, however, the exceptional drought was back to 33 percent of the state.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of Limestone County, all of Lawrence County and the western third of Morgan County improved from an exceptional drought status to extremely dry from June 28 to July 31.

Britnell said July rains helped hay crops, and area farmers got better-than-expected cuttings recently.

"But we still need some more rain to get another cutting," he said.

July rains didn't help corn because most of it was destroyed in June, Britnell said, and the verdict is still out on cotton.

"Soybeans and hay is what's critical now," he said.

The bad news is the area can expect only isolated and scattered afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms in the next week or so, said Dave Nadler, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville.

"In fact you'll start to see a high pressure loft build in and maybe suppress any activity at all," he said. "It's going to be hot and humid."

The state needs a strong tropical system to even make a small dent in the overall drought situation, Nadler said.

August and September are the busiest months for hurricane season, but Nadler said there's no way to predict tropical movement more than a week out and current models don't show any wet developments.

"And if we get a tropical system, it's not going to mean we're all the sudden out of the drought," he said.

The Huntsville/Decatur area is a little more than 19 inches below normal rainfall for 2007.

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