South Carolina Drought Committee says state is getting dry, but forecasts hint at wet winter



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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina doesn't have any serious problems with drought yet, but experts warn rain will be needed this winter or the situation could get much more serious this spring.

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee voted in November to put the entire state under incipient drought status, which is the lowest in the four categories of severity that continue to moderate, severe and extreme.

Not all indicators the state uses have South Carolina indicate a better-than-normal chance of getting ample precipitation. The U.S. Drought Monitor has only a few pockets of the state abnormally dry as of Thursday. But a drier than normal September and October reduced the amount of water in many of the state's lakes and rivers and tipped the committee toward action, said South Carolina State Climatologist Hope Mizzell.

"There was not overwhelming support by all indicators," Mizzell said. "However, the committee decided to err on the side of caution and upgrade the declaration."

Winter is a critical time for getting water into lakes, rivers, streams and the ground. The sun angle is lower, meaning less water evaporates. An ample supply of water is also critical to the spring and summer growing season. If South Carolina has a wet winter, things should be back to normal by March.

Here are other ways the dry fall affected South Carolina:

GOOD FOR FARMERS

For the most part, the dry fall was a benefit for farmers, who were able to harvest their crops without delay, keeping them from rotting and mildewing in the fields, state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said.

Some farmers did have to use extra irrigation, which means they need more winter rains to recharge those ponds, he said.

Also, farmers want plenty of rain leading up to planting, because a dry start can affect the whole growing season. But on the other hand, some dry weather is needed to get out in the fields and plant.

LOW LAKES

Perhaps the biggest indicators of the dry fall were the lakes operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Duke Energy along the Savannah River. Lake Jocassee in the far northern part of South Carolina was nearly 10 feet below full pool, while Hartwell Lake and Thurmond Lake were each more than 3 feet below full pool.

That's not a serious problem, but an indication that things are getting dry, said Scott Harder with the state Department of Natural Resources.

FORECAST

The drought committee met on Nov. 20. Since then, two storms have brought significant amounts of rain across the state. The first storm brought 1 to 3 inches of soaking rain around Nov. 23. On Tuesday and Wednesday, another storm brought widespread totals of about an inch of rain across South Carolina.

The National Weather Service's long range winter forecast gives an above normal chance of above normal rainfall in South Carolina for this winter.

"The committee will continue to monitor the situation closely and since many counties are only on the cusp of drought, hopefully with a few precipitation events we can remove the drought declaration," Drought Response Committee Chairman Ken Rentiers said.

DROUGHT HISTORY

After a pair of devastating droughts in the early part of this century, South Carolina has been fairly wet in recent years. From April 2013 to this September, the committee declared there was no drought in the state.

The last time anywhere in South Carolina was in a moderate, or second-stage drought, was in January 2013, when 22 counties in the southern and western part of the state were in moderate drought.

South Carolina hasn't seen any extreme, or third-stage drought, since December 2012, when 12 western counties were under that status.

The last time the committee declared an extreme drought — the most serious category — was February 2009 in nine counties in northwest South Carolina.

The last serious statewide drought was in 2007.

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