Thursday November 26th, 2015 3:41AM

Stooksbury: Next year's drought shaping up to be even worse

By The Associated Press
ATHENS - Georgia's state climatologist warned Friday that without more rain over the next three months, the state could face a drought next year even worse than this year's record conditions.

David Stooksbury said the severe drought gripping north Georgia and parts of the Southeast could expand through the rest of the state and lead to "catastrophic" conditions in the summer.

And although recent rains have helped recharge dwindling reservoirs, Stooksbury said forecasts show a dry winter ahead and little chance of the drought breaking.

"Currently," he said, "there is no relief in sight."

More than one-third of the Southeast - including Gainesville and surrounding areas - is covered by an "exceptional" drought, the worst drought category. The Atlanta area, with a population of 5 million, is smack in the middle of an affected region that also includes most of Tennessee, Alabama, North and South Carolina, as well as parts of Kentucky and Virginia.

"Drought conditions will persist across regions of Georgia currently in drought," Stooksbury said at a news conference in Athens. "Drought conditions will likely expand statewide by spring."

Stooksbury said half of the state is in extreme drought conditions now, with the worst conditions across the mountains and piedmont regions west of Interstate 75.

He said the extreme-to-exceptional drought regions will probably "muddle" through the winter and early spring. "But without a significant recharge of the soil moisture, groundwater, streams and reservoirs, conditions next summer could become catastrophic in these regions."

Stooksbury said Lake Lanier and other large water supply sources may bounce back some over the winter but "the big concern is they are not going to come up enough ."

('s Ken Stanford contributed to this story.)

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