COLUMBIA, S.C. — The S.C. Drought Response Committee placed Greenville, Spartanburg, Cherokee, Union, York, Chester and Fairfield counties in moderate drought.. The committee maintained incipient drought status for 16 counties and normal conditions for the remaining 23 counties (see map).
For the counties that did not change in status, there was less support for changes across multiple indicators and local reports.
As designated by the S.C. Drought Response Act, incipient is the first level of drought, followed by moderate, severe and extreme.
Low streamflow and impacts of the drought on feed and water for grazing animals were the primary driving factors leading to the upgraded drought declaration for those counties.
Brandon Lambert, county executive director for the U.S. Farm Service Agency,, urged the committee to upgrade to the moderate drought level based on the impact of the drought on growers and producers in portions of the Upstate.
“There has not been enough moisture in the ground for many farmers to plant their winter grains which they depend on to feed their livestock,” Lambert said. “And a major concern is that access to water for grazing animals is getting limited. Producers are reporting their ponds are drying up with limited flow in streams which forces the producers to bring in water. From grazing to row crop producers, the drought has impacted the livelihood for many farmers.”
Drought committee member Ken Tuck, director of drinking water services for Spartanburg Water, also recommended the upgraded status.
“Despite some localized relief from recent rain, the Upstate region of South Carolina remains significantly dry,” he said. “The Central Drought Management Area Committee reviewed and took into consideration several factors when upgrading seven counties today. Among these were agricultural, water supply –both surface water and groundwater– as well as precipitation and forest fire risk. When making decisions, we feel it prudent to act on the data and information presented, and further consider local, county-by-county observations to make an informed decision.”
According to Hope Mizzell, S.C. state climatologist, rainfall has been less than 4 inches since Sept. 1 (6 to 8 inches below normal) across most of the Upstate with, several stations reporting their first or second-driest fall on record through Nov. 30. Greenville–Spartanburg Airport reported only 2.60 inches of rain since Sept. 1, making it the driest fall on record. Anderson FAA Airport recorded 3.28 inches, its second-driest recorded fall.
The U.S. Drought Monitor was one of the drought indicators supporting the upgrade. Elliot Wickham, the state water resources climatologist, explained that the drought conditions on the U.S. Drought Monitor spread and intensified for much of the state since the last drought committee meeting Oct. 17.
“Extreme drought (as designated by the U.S. Drought Monitor as D3) conditions were introduced in the beginning of November in the northern Upstate, the first time we have seen D3 on the map since 2016,” Wickham said. “Luckily, the days surrounding Thanksgiving provided needed rainfall ranging from 0.50 to 3.50 inches. While the rains did help with conditions statewide, much more rain is needed to bring the state back to normal conditions.”
Darryl Jones, forest protection chief for the S.C. Forestry Commission, said: “Over the last month, fuels were very dry in the Piedmont and mountains of the state, and conditions were approaching those we experienced in the fall of 2016 when the Pinnacle Mountain Fire occurred. Our fuels were not quite as dry as those in the mountains of North Carolina and Georgia where they experienced several large wildfires. The rainfall we received in the last two weeks helped moderate fuel conditions. Wildfire occurrences in October were slightly above normal with closer to normal fire occurrences in November. If the additional rainfall in the forecast for this weekend materializes, the wildfire threat will continue to decrease.”
S.C. Department of Natural Resources Hydrologist Priyanka More provided an update of the hydrologic conditions, showing that streamflows and groundwater levels in the Upstate have continued to gradually drop due to lack of adequate rainfall. The recent 14-day average streamflows at Broad River near Carlisle gauge is at 2 percent of its normal flow for this time of year.
The committee is cautiously optimistic that the five-day rainfall forecast and the December precipitation outlook will verify, providing more beneficial rainfall for the entire state. While the forecast was mentioned many times during the meeting, the committee felt best that it should not sway their decision, particularly in the Upstate, due the severity of the dry conditions.
The S.C. Drought Response Committee will continue to monitor conditions and will likely reconvene in early January.