Drought conditions deepen throughout the Carolinas

The Associated PressDecember 15, 2012 

  • Local impact The Grand Strand’s rainfall totals for the last three months are below average, and both Horry and Georgetown counties have been classified as being in incipient drought, the lowest level above normal. Tim Armstrong, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., said Horry County is currently considered abnormally dry. However, that classification has not had significant impact on either ground water or stream levels. Still, Horry County’s rainfall totals for this time of year are well below average. Armstrong said the area would have normally seen 2.39 inches of rain over the last three weeks. That total only hit 0.80 inches. For the past 90 days, Horry County’s rainfall total has been less than six inches, well below the 11-inch average for that time frame, Armstrong said.

— Conditions are dry across the Carolinas, and there may not be much relief in sight.

Most of South Carolina is now in moderate or severe drought, and all of the state’s 46 counties are now in some drought stage, according to the state agency that monitors the conditions. Drought conditions are moderate across more than half of North Carolina, primarily in the central part of the state.

On Tuesday, the South Carolina Drought Response Committee upgraded the drought status in every county by one level. Conditions were most dire in 12 of the state’s western counties, where the drought was determined to be severe. The middle of the state was in moderate drought, while the eastern and coastal areas were the least severe.

The last time this many South Carolina counties were in severe drought was winter 2008, according to state climatologist Hope Mizzell. Most places in severe drought have received less than half of normal rainfall amounts over the last two months, she said.

Daryl Jones with the SC Forestry Commission is concerned about the ongoing drought and the impact on potential wildfires, “During November, wildfire occurrence in the state was 57 percent higher than the five-year average. As we move into the traditional wildfire season that begins in late January or early February, we are very concerned that the ongoing drought will result in a very active wildfire season this year. The long-term drying of fuels will increase the intensity of wildfires, putting firefighters and the public at greater risk.”

In North Carolina, 16 counties are reporting abnormally dry conditions. Without adequate winter rainfall, there could be bigger problems in store next spring and summer, officials say.

November was the seventh-driest month on record in terms of statewide average rainfall since 1895, North Carolina state climatologist Ryan Boyles said. He also pointed out that the state typically recharges its water supplies in winter because usage decreases.

There haven’t been reports of public water supplies being affected, but Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, said that water levels were lower. In South Carolina, officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said water releases from the Thurmond Dam had been cut and may be further reduced to keep reservoirs from getting too low.

The conditions aren’t a surprise. North Carolina has experienced some form of drought during the fall in seven of the past 10 years, according to state officials. In South Carolina, forestry officials said they were worried the drought could mean a very active wildfire season, as brush and trees continue to dry out.

Rain is forecast throughout the two states on Sunday, but conditions are set to dry out throughout the upcoming week. Crop conditions throughout both states were slightly dry but not in dangerous territory, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But there have been some positive effects from the dry weather. Dry conditions meant brighter foliage throughout the Carolinas this fall, with some trees in South Carolina starting to show their bright colors by September, peaking a month or two later.

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