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Drought is a situation which arises from a lack of precipitation or what’s technically known as precipitation deficit. This happens when the amount of rain, sleet, snow or hail is much lesser than expected during a particular period. 

In the U.S., it is the western parts of the country that experience more drought than the eastern side. In particular, Nevada and Arizona have recorded more drought than other places based on data gathered by the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

But, the truth of the matter is: No state is ever free from drought, including Georgia. 

Some of the biggest impacts are:

  • Agriculture
  • Water availability
  • Public Health
  • Wildfires

These fires claimed Georgia’s 1.4 million acres costing the state government $3.1 million to fight! We’ll go into more detail later. Let’s see how droughts develop in the first place.

How Droughts Develop in Georgia

Drought is a reality that faces many people in the Peach State. Despite receiving about 50 inches of precipitation, on average, each year, many parts of Georgia develop drought because of the soil’s poor capacity to hold water. This soil condition, plus a protracted dry spell caused by high pressure and high temperature, creates the perfect condition for drought to develop. 

In fact, severe and persistent droughts are much more common in Georgia and its neighboring states than other areas of the eastern United States

How Common Are Droughts in Georgia?

According to the climatological record, the state can expect an average of two or more years of drought about once in 25 years. This doesn’t count short-term droughts and flash droughts. 

What Are Flash Droughts?

Flash droughts are the Fast & Furious version of a regular drought. They develop quickly and get worse rapidly too. In less than a month, this drought goes from normal to severely dry almost in an instant.

“The classic view of droughts is that they are slow moving and take a long time to develop,” Ben Cook, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Discover Magazine. “But like heavy rainfall or floods or heat waves, flash droughts are very quick — all of a sudden, you’re in it.”

They arise thanks to the combo of low precipitation and high temperatures. Cook explains why that’s so: “A warmer, drier atmosphere sucks more moisture out of the soil and plants, all else being equal. When you add in a precipitation deficit, it accelerates drying on the surface.”

Significant Droughts in Georgia’s History

Georgia has seen its fair share of droughts throughout the years. Some of the more noteworthy droughts in Georgia include the following. 

1903 to 1905 drought – The earliest recorded severe drought in the state. 

1954 drought – The severe drought that occurred this year made 1954 the driest year on record for the city of Atlanta. 

1998 to 2002 drought – One of the only long-term droughts that occurred in Georgia. The other being the one from 1954 to 1956. 

2007 drought – This was called the “drought of the century” and described as being “worse than the one in 1954.”

2016 flash drought – This quick, rapid, dry drought fueled wildfires, including a 700+ acre fire in Walker County. It also led to the waters of Lake Lanier withdrawing to its lowest level in five years.

Impacts of Droughts in Georgia

There are four major consequences of droughts. Precipitation deficit can affect the water supply, agriculture and public health. Droughts can also lead to wildfires. 


Agriculture is the no. 1 sector that gets hit by droughts. Lack of water supply means crops will fail to grow properly. For instance, in 2016, Georgia’s crops, such as cotton, peanuts and corn, were parched after months without rain. 

In addition, no water supply also means thirsty cattle and livestock. As a last resort, some farmers culled their cattle and imported hay from out of state. 

“My farmers are selling cattle. They’re running out of water. They’re selling their cattle because they may water their cattle out of the creeks and the creeks have dried up. They have no other source,” UGA Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources agent Paula Burke in Carroll County told The Augusta Chronicle

Water availability

Water supply becomes a huge problem during periods of drought. The natural event is a double-edged sword. First, the temperatures are high so water quickly evaporates into the air. Second, since there’s no rain, there’s no water to replenish the supply. The result is a rapid loss of water.

One example is the drought of 1980 to 1982, when Lake Lanier’s reservoir levels decreased to an almost-record minimum. Lake Lanier, along with Lake Alatoona, provides most of the water supply for metro Atlanta. During the 1985 to 1989 drought, northern Georgia faced shortages in groundwater supplies. Droughts in the state have a 10- to 25-year cycle, but urbanization quickens water shortages due to the amount of water that goes to waste. 


The increase in temperature and decrease in moisture leads to grass, trees and other vegetation drying out. Because of this, they become excellent tinder or potential fuel for wildfire as they have become more flammable.  

This was exactly the case in 2016, when North Georgia was plagued by a heavy drought. “I’ve literally seen [a] live, growing tree burn through at the bottom and fall over because there was no moisture in that tree. … It was thirsty and it was so dry that the fire just burned right through it,” Darryl Jackson from the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). “It burned it like it was a log in a fireplace, but it was a live tree. That’s how bad things were.”

The wildfires raged from September to mid-November, killing over 12 people and burning 1.4 million acres. The state government spent $3.1 million to fight these wildfires, according to reports.

The GFC’s Area Fire Management Officer, Kris Butler, noted that wildfires during droughts are pretty normal occurrences. “In the 1950s, [we] had a similar wildfire event and then, you know, dating back into the 1920s, there was a pretty good [fire],” he told The AJC. “One thing we have to take into account is, in the 1950s versus 2016, we have more urban interface. In other words, we have more homes impacted.”

Public Health

Last but not least, droughts have a wide-ranging impact on people. It can affect their livelihoods as well as their mental health. The reduction in the amount and quality of water supply may also be a harbinger of diseases, and if many people get sick, it can pose a challenge to the state’s public health departments and healthcare providers.

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