COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Just a little more than three months ago, all of South Carolina had abundant rainfall. Now a moderate drought has spread across two-thirds of the state, according to federal officials.
The dry, hot summer hasn't caused serious problems yet. Farmers say corn, cotton, hay and other crops are OK as long as the dry weather doesn't continue, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Water levels in lakes, streams and reservoirs are adequate too, but that might not last if South Carolina doesn't get rain to refill them in the fall and winter.
The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday has about two-thirds of the state in a moderate drought, sparing only areas along the coast and in the northwestern part of the state.
The next level of drought, which is severe, covers about a quarter of the state in a 40-mile swath from Rock Hill curving east to Sumter and back west to Allendale.
The May 19 map had only a tiny sliver of the state — less than 0.3 percent — labeled as abnormally dry, which is the lowest level of drought.
Many places in South Carolina are on their way to one of the hottest summers on record, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center.
The average temperature in Columbia from June through August is 83.5 degrees, making it the third hottest summer in 68 years of records. Columbia has also seen 17 days with a high of 100 or above, which Is the most in the record books.
Greenville-Spartanburg is also dealing with its third hottest summer in 53 years on record, with an average temperature of nearly 80 degrees. The area has seen 25 days where the highs were 95 degrees or higher, which is only six away from the record of 31 set in 1993.
Florence, with an average daily temperature of 82.5 degrees, has seen its third hottest June through August, while Charleston has seen its sixth hottest period.
While the lack of rain hasn't set records this summer, it has been spotty enough to make some big differences across short distances.
In Columbia, the airport has seen nearly 13 inches of rain in June through August, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. The Sandhills Research Center xx miles away on the other side of town has seen 4 fewer inches of precipitation.
Greenville-Spartanburg has seen its third driest June through August at 6.76 inches of rain, while Charleston is about average with 19.15 inches.
LITTLE HELP FROM ERIKA
A few days ago, Tropical Storm Erika looked like it might bring several inches of rain across the state. Now, that seems less likely.
Erika fell apart and is moving farther west, forecasters said.
Without Erika's moisture, rain chances seem limited across much of the state for at least the next week.
LONG TERM FORECAST
Forecasters warn it's is impossible to give a pinpoint forecast beyond a week out. But they can look at trends and try to determine what seems more likely to happen.
The federal Climate Prediction Center can only say South Carolina has an equal chance of above normal or below normal precipitation for this fall. The chances of above normal rainfall are to the west.
Other forecasters are saying to watch above normal water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean called the El Nino. That phenomenon can cause below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation in the Southeast during the winter.
Online: U.S. Drought Monitor map of South Carolina: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?SC