In early 2009, no one predicted that it would be one of the rainiest years on record.
After years of drought, it would take months of heavy rain to fill Lake Lanier again, something few thought was possible.
But then the unlikely happened, said state climatologist David Stooksbury.
“There were starting to be some glimmers of hope in late February,” Stooksbury said.
The major change happened after the weather switched from a neutral pattern to a weak La Niña weather pattern, indicating more rain than normal. But even more bountiful rainfall throughout the year would be needed to fill the lake and end the drought.
“We didn’t really want to get ahead of the game,” Stooksbury said. “We were very conservative in forecasting we were coming out of the drought.”
As a result of the La Niña weather pattern, the spring months of March, April and May were unusually wet.
“That had made some major impacts,” Stooksbury said. “But we also started to be concerned.”
By May, it appeared that the summer weather would follow an El Niño climate pattern, which suppresses tropical storm activity, making for a dry season.
“What was unique about this El Niño was how wet the fall was,” Stooksbury said. “In September, Gainesville had 12.2 inches (of rain). October, typically the driest month, had 9.77 inches, extremely wet.”
Stooksbury said all the rain was not associated with tropical storms, but rather the type of storms that are more typical in an El Niño winter.
“It’s almost like the atmosphere skipped a season,” Stooksbury said. “It went into an almost winter pattern in September.”
By October, all the rain resulted in pushing Lake Lanier back to its full pool level of 1,071 feet above sea level.
“We base our outlooks on probabilities, what are the most likely scenarios,” Stooksbury said. “But there will be those years where the most likely scenario is not what occurs, and that’s what happened this year.”
For the rest of the winter, Stooksbury said the weather will likely continue down the same path.
“Winter will most likely be wetter than normal and cooler than normal,” Stooksbury said.
“That cooler than normal (weather) will be caused by it being cloudy during the day.”
Stooksbury said the winter El Niño will not increase the likelihood of snow, though there is a small chance of more ice this winter.
“We live in Georgia so we don’t have a lot of these events to start with,” Stooksbury said.
The rain should ease up and make way for a dry spring, which should not pose problems now that reservoirs have been filled and groundwater replenished.
“Under a typical El Niño pattern, from mid-spring through early summer, it turns out dry,” Stooksbury said.