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Weather Outlook for 2019

Weather Outlook for 2019
Pam Knox, Director of the UGA Weather Network
Summary:
• After a cool start to April, most of the month is expected to be warmer than normal.
• Temperatures for the rest of spring, summer and fall are all leaning towards warmer
than normal conditions due to long-term trends in temperature.
• No more frost is expected in Georgia this spring except for a few isolated areas in the NE
mountains.
• No strong signals are seen in precipitation for the spring, summer and fall, with
statistically equal chances of above, near and below normal precipitation predicted.
• El Niño is near peak and is expected to last through most of the growing season, and it
could continue into next winter. Summers after an El Niño ends are sometimes dry but
since forecasts show the El Niño continuing, a drought does not seem as likely as after
other El Niño winters.

• The Atlantic tropical season is likely to be less active than usual, which could bring dry
conditions later in summer and into fall. But storm paths are not predictable more than
a few days ahead, so be prepared just in case.
For more details read below.

Temperature:
As you know, the winter had some cold spells but was warmer than average for December
through February as a whole. In March, the northern counties have been cooler than normal
but the rest of the state has been slightly warmer than normal. The next two weeks look like
they are likely to be cooler than average for all of Georgia, but going into April the pattern
should shift back to warmer than normal temperatures across the state. Looking farther ahead,
spring (March through May), summer (June through August), and fall (September through
November) are all showing increased chances of warmer than normal temperatures. In large
part this is due to the long-term trends to warmer temperatures seen across the region since
the 1960s, especially in summer. It is interesting to note that most of the increase in average
temperatures comes from warmer nights rather than warmer days, which reflects a
combination of more pavement and higher humidity, both of which keep night-time
temperatures high. You can check trends for individual months or other time periods at
https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/statewide/time-series/.

Frost:
We are near the end of the spring frost season. Looking at the long-range weather models
indicates that there is still a chance of frost in northern counties in Georgia into mid-April,
which is as far as those models can look. As it stands now, the southern 2/3 of Georgia looks
frost-free for the rest of the spring.
Precipitation:
March was drier than normal for most of the state, which has led to the expansion of dry
conditions (see Drought below). The pattern for the first week of April also looks relatively dry,
with wetter conditions returning after that. Wetter than normal conditions look slightly more
likely than not for the rest of spring. After that, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center puts us in
equal chances of above, near and below normal rainfall through fall. Summer rainfall in Georgia
is hard to predict because most of it is tied to small-scale weather like local thunderstorms or
tropical systems which don’t show up well in climate models, so this is not a big surprise. It also
depends on how El Niño evolves (see below).

El Niño:
We are currently in a weak to moderate El Niño pattern. This means that the subtropical jet has
been parked across parts of the Southeast, bringing frequent rain and cloudy conditions to
areas along the path of the jet, as it has for most of the winter. This year the rain has been
concentrated in northern GA, while southern Georgia, especially along the East Coast, has been
missed by a lot of the rainfall. The forecast for El Niño is for it to continue near peak strength
for the next few months before gradually weakening in summer. The latest forecasts indicate
that it may come back again in fall, an unusual double-peak since most of the time it is a oneyear event. But predicting what El Niño will do in spring is tough, so don’t be surprised if the
forecast changes in summer once we get past the spring predictability barrier. You can read
more about the El Niño this year at https://site.extension.uga.edu/climate/2019/03/el-nino-isvery-healthy-right-now/.
Drought
At the beginning of April, abnormally dry conditions were present in the southern half of
Georgia with an area of moderate drought in east central Georgia, a consequence of being
missed by a lot of the winter and early spring rains that we have experienced in northern
Georgia. While I don’t have big concerns about drought this year due to the continuation of El
Niño, it is something to watch for in any summer after an El Niño winter. Warmer than normal
temperatures will increase water demands for all crops this growing season. Some of you have
asked about comparisons with 2016, which also started out very wet but got rapidly drier over
the course of the growing season. I don’t think this year is going to be similar because in 2016
the onset of the drought was linked to a rapid decline of that El Niño to neutral and then La
Niña conditions in just a few months that is not expected to occur this year.

Tropical Season:
Georgia has been hard-hit by tropical storms the last two years, with Irma in 2017 and Michael
in 2018 doing tremendous damage to different parts of the state. In El Niño years, the number
of tropical systems that develop into storms is lower than normal because strong winds aloft
tend to disrupt the organization of storm circulations, effectively “blowing the top off” of any
storms that might be trying to form. However, even in El Niño years, it is possible to get strong
hurricanes (think Hurricane Andrew in 1992). A less active season could mean drier conditions
for Georgia later in summer and into fall, but if a storm does move over the area, it could do
tremendous damage. We can’t predict where those storms will go more than a few days out, so
you should be prepared to take care of your farms well in advance of the tropical season just in
case.