Y'all Come Back, Mr. Sun

As rains pour after tropical storm Alberto, Atlanta keeps decorum, even in outdoor concerts

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EARLY on a recent Friday evening, several managers and employees of the popular Cheesecake Company restaurant in the upscale Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead gathered on the outdoor patio to make an important business decision.

The decision - whether to open the streetside patio for dinner seating - took about 15 minutes and involved much peering and pointing at the unpredictable-looking overcast sky.

After they dispersed, six waiters began wiping the puddle-filled tables and dripping chairs wet from a rainstorm an hour earlier. Napkins and dinnerware were set out, and the tables began filling up with customers. All went well for about an hour, until Mother Nature unleashed another deluge, forcing customers and staff to seek inside dining arrangements.

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In Atlanta, an abnormal amount of rain this month has affected just about every facet of life from the building of homes to outdoor entertainment.

The reason is tropical storm Alberto, a storm that began July 3 and traveled from Florida through Georgia, to Alabama and back through Georgia again.

The moisture it left behind added to the moisture in the atmosphere, creating stagnant conditions that have caused day after day of additional afternoon thunderstorms, says Carlos Garza, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Atlanta office.

``Normally you have a tropical system come through, and within a matter of days it's out. And you have a record setting rain, but it will just be for a few days,'' Mr. Garza says.

``It's rare to have it last this long. We've had over 15 days of measurable precipitation at the Atlanta airport, which is a record.''

Alberto, which dumped 21 inches of rain over a 24-hour period in Sumter County earlier this month, caused the devastating floods in the southwest part of the state.

More than 400,000 acres of land were affected by the raging rivers, which destroyed 355 homes and left 33 people dead. At press time 49 counties had been declared federal disaster areas and nearly 21,600 people had applied for disaster assistance, according to Don Daniel of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

The agency has housed more than 18,000 residents in temporary shelters. Relief workers, residents, and volunteers are in the beginning stages of cleaning up the trash. The major priority is repairing and replacing damaged infrastructure, such as water plants and bridges, Mr. Daniel says.

Although the flooding missed Atlanta, the continuing wet weather has created a rain-forest-like climate here. Trees and grass are a lush emerald green, and the ground is spongy to the foot. On most days tiers of steamy clouds have hung in the atmosphere; it's been rare to catch a glimpse of clear blue sky.

One positive factor in this situation is cooler temperatures. Usually during this part of the summer, the grass is scorched brown from the heat and the city bakes under sunshine day after day, according to longtime Atlantans.

The precipitation has affected nearly every outdoor activity. Rain has slowed the building of homes, and many builders are behind schedule.

During a performance by the musical groups, The Temptations and The Four Tops at the outdoor amphitheater in Chastain Park, most folks were smart enough to bring umbrellas to the performance; the show went on despite the downpours.

The unusual weather is expected to end this week, Garza says.

Then, it will get back to a normal summertime pattern, which is hot, humid in the morning, drier in the afternoon, with a few scattered thunderstorms.

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