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Georgia’s Climate Trends

“Climate is more than just the average weather,” said Pam Knox, UGA’s Weather Director and this month’s Thoughtful Thursday speaker. Climate is about ranges of temperatures, extremes, and cycles that can be natural or or otherwise.

When you start talking about climate trends, the time period really does matter. For example, we have good records for the period 1901-2000. At different times in this period, data shows different trends, including rising or falling temperatures. Pam shared that this was largely due to change in predominant crops. Forests are cooler than row crops, so changes in crops can change climates.

Pam went on to further explain climate trends in Georgia. Since 1960, there has been a dramatic rise in temperatures. Night time temperatures are rising faster than daytime temperatures. Urbanization and changes in humidity play a role in these trends. Pam shared that she expects this trend to continue. Warmer temperatures will likely increase, especially at night. For every one degree F increase in average temperature, we see one additional week in the length of the growing season.

Pam went on to further explain climate trends in Georgia. Since 1960, there has been a dramatic rise in temperatures. Night time temperatures are rising faster than daytime temperatures. Urbanization and changes in humidity play a role in these trends. Pam shared that she expects this trend to continue. Warmer temperatures will likely increase, especially at night. For every one degree F increase in average temperature, we see one additional week in the length of the growing season.

Pam also spoke about precipitation patterns. For the period 1895-2020, Georgia averages 50″ for the state, but there is lots of variation each year. The lowest amount of precipitation on record was in 1954 (a year that was hard for lots of areas in the U.S.). Following the 1954 drought, we saw a benign period (about 1958-1980) without much drought. We had lowest temps during that time. When we have cooler temperatures, we are less likely to see drought. If drought conditions increase in the future, then temperatures will be warmer. In last 20 years, we have seen longer stretches of dry conditions and the increased frequency of 2 subsequent years of dry conditions. The trend depends on where you are. Georgia has trended toward dryer conditions (counting the number of droughts we have had), while other parts of the country are getting wetter. The country as a whole is wetter due to increase in humidity.

If one simply describes climate as “average weather,” you miss the changes. For example, Georgia’s average rainfall hasn’t changed, but rain doesn’t fall equally every day or every season. We have experienced 27% more heavy rain days (when rain falls in larger amounts in a short period of time) and longer dry spells in between. This is important for gardeners, who depend on rain on a regular schedule to keep vegetables, fruits, flowers, and lawns healthy and hydrated. Heavy rain events mean more erosion, runoff, and longer dry spells. Pam encourages gardeners to select plants that can withstand the dry spells. She also discourages plants that need a lot of fertilization because these heavier rainfall events increase the risk of losing nutrients to runoff. Rain gardens can be useful for capturing and slowing some of this rain, and building soils with compost additions can help to improve garden fertility.

Pam shared several resources in her presentations. Georgia MGEVs may be interested in these:

  • Georgia Weather — A fantastic resource for current weather as well as critical weather information
  • CoCoRaHS – This is a citizen science project that helps document weather. MGEVs can become a part of the group, but they will need a specific type of rain gauge. Volunteers are asked to spend 5 minutes a day reporting measurements. Currently, there are about 10-20K people reporting. NOTE: This is not a MGEV project, but something you may be interested in contributing to.

Mark your calendars to join us in April for Thoughtful Thursday (zoom links are emailed through MGLOG the week of the session):

April 8, 2021, from 2-2:30 pm

Firescaping, presented by Holly Campbell, UGA Warnell School of Forestry

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About sdorn

Sheri is the State Coordinator for the Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program and Extension Specialist for Consumer Ornamentals. When she is not traveling about the state of Georgia admiring the work of Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteers, she spends time in her own (real and virtual) gardens.