Resource item

Updated drought designation for all counties in the state


The SC Drought Response Committee, meeting by conference call Thursday, updated the drought designation for all counties in South Carolina.

Thirteen counties went from incipient to moderate drought, including Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Jasper, Marlboro, Marion and Williamsburg. The remaining counties have been upgraded to the first, incipient drought level (see map).

As designated by the South Carolina Drought Response Act, incipient is the first level of drought followed by moderate, severe, and extreme. There was support from all drought indicators for improving drought status, with some indicators already showing more advanced stages of drought. One of seven major indicators assessed by the Drought Response Committee, the US Drought Monitor, already shows 52% of the state in moderate drought and 10% in severe.

Elliot Wickham, water resources climatologist with SC’s Department of Natural Resources, explained that areas of moderate and severe drought, according to the US Drought Monitor, have faced dry conditions since May. Sixty-day rainfall deficits, along with above normal temperatures in June, caused severe soil moisture deficits in these regions.

Evaporation rates have also been high, and areas need more frequent rainfall and precipitation totals just to keep up with water lost through evaporation. There were several reports of temperatures of 100 degrees, with several places reaching 103 F. Not only were daytime temperatures high, but nighttime lows were also much higher than normal.

The Drought Committee is tasked with working to agree on a drought declaration for each county that takes into consideration several factors, including agriculture, wildfire risk, water supply and water quality. the water. That can be a challenge, said SC State climatologist Hope Mizell, because conditions for each of these factors can vary widely from county to county. For example, rainfall for parts of Lexington County over the past 30 days has ranged from just 0.84 inches to 5.08 inches.

The committee is also trying to avoid a two-tier increase in the drought designation unless there is overwhelming consensus among all the indicators.

The main drought impacts currently reported are on agriculture and for some counties these impacts are variable and can be significant. Wildfire conditions are also a concern.

Farmers and agricultural representatives have reported impacts across the state.

“Total rainfall has been sporadic,” said Kayla Stroman, agricultural program specialist at the Farm Service Agency Office. “Corn and tobacco crops are suffering. Hay production is low and many producers are already feeding their winter hay and selling cows. Ponds and streams are much lower than they were a year ago. a few weeks.”

In addition to the effect on crops, worsening drought conditions in recent weeks have led to more wildfires in the state, according to the SC Forestry Commission.

In June, the Forestry Commission responded to 196 wildfires that burned more than 1,157 acres. Compared to the 10-year average, this represents an increase of more than 172% in the number of fires and an increase of more than 231% in the number of acres burned for the month.

Long-term drying combined with high temperatures kept fine fuels such as straw and grasses dry, making it easier to start forest fires. Larger branches and debris also dried out considerably, leading to additional ground fuel availability and more intense wildfires.

“These conditions increase the risk of damaging wildfires that can threaten the public, homes and developed areas,” said Darryl Jones, head of forest protection for the SC Forestry Commission. “And that makes the job more difficult and increases the safety concerns for firefighters in the field.”

SCDNR hydrologist Priyanka More gave an overview of lake, flow and groundwater levels, with the majority of stream and groundwater levels declining due to lack of beneficial rainfall and high temperatures. As drought conditions intensify, all water systems are urged to review their drought response plans and orders and implement them as needed.

Even though the state has received some rainfall relief in some areas this week, with more rain in the forecast, the potential rainfall is highly variable. The committee will meet again in two weeks to review the indicators and impacts.