ATLANTA - What drought? Georgia's governor has given the go-ahead to fill up outdoor swimming pools. The five-ring fountain at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park is dancing once more. And some communities may soon allow homeowners to run lawn sprinklers again.
Weeks of rain have eased the drought that has gripped the Southeast for the past two years. But government forecasters warn that the crisis is far from over and could soon grow worse. And some worry that the spring rains have lured politicians into a false sense of security.
"We hope it turns around, but to assume it will turn around is dangerous. It takes time to recover, and with summer upon us, it's important for us to not move too quickly," said Mark Svoboda, a National Drought Mitigation Center climatologist. "We're still behind the eight-ball and we're going into high-demand season."
Most of the Southeast has gotten 10 to 20 inches of rain over the past three months. Some 8 percent of the region is now in "extreme" drought, and none of the region is in "exceptional" drought, the worst category. That is a welcome change from October, when 45 percent of the Southeast was locked in one of those two conditions.
But most of the Atlanta metropolitan area of 5 million people is still in extreme drought, and the rain has not done much to recharge its chief source of water, Lake Lanier, because its watershed is relatively meager.
Lake Lanier is still some 13.2 feet below normal - only a few inches from the lowest level on record for this time of year.
Forecasters say it will take monumental storms to bust the drought.
Despite the warnings, Governor Sonny Perdue relaxed water restrictions in February to allow outdoor swimming pools to be filled. He allowed the hand-watering of plants for 25 minutes every other day for three days a week.
In addition, state officials rescinded an order that utilities in northern Georgia reduce water use by 10 percent. And they agreed to allow some counties that do not rely on Lake Lanier to obtain exemptions from the outdoor watering restrictions.