COLUMBIA, S.C. — Recent rain throughout South Carolina has improved drought conditions for much of the state.
Four to 8 inches of rain over the past three weeks was enough to significantly improve the drought status for counties in the Upstate and Piedmont. During its regular conference call Dec. 7 to evaluate conditions, the S.C. Drought Response Committee downgraded the status of 21 counties.
Aiken, Anderson, Abbeville, Cherokee, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Kershaw, Lee, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, and Spartanburg are now drought-free, bringing the total number of counties out of drought to 29.
Chester, Lancaster, Laurens and Union counties were downgraded from moderate drought to incipient, the first level of drought. Although recent rain has helped downgrade several counties from moderate to incipient drought, many creeks and tributaries remain dry due to the time between major rainfalls, said Jimmy Bagley, deputy city manager of Rock Hill and a Drought Committee member for his region.
Drought this year has mainly affected agriculture, particularly pollination of early corn planting and grazing conditions for livestock in the Upstate. While the recent rain has not been enough to improve long-term drought conditions, soil moisture has significantly improved in some of the hardest-hit drought areas.
John Irwin, retired Clemson University Extension agent and Laurens County beef producer, said that soil moisture improvements will benefit pastures — especially where winter-grazing has been planted.
The incipient drought level was maintained for counties in the Pee Dee Basin and lower Savannah because the 30-day rainfall averaged less than 2 inches and the 60-day rainfall totals were less than 50 percent of normal numbers.
“Insufficient rainfall, below normal streamflow and groundwater levels have persisted in the counties of the lower Savannah and Pee Dee basins,” said Scott Harder, hydrology section chief for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “For example, several rivers in the Pee Dee basin, including the Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee Rivers, are at or below their 20th percentile flows, while several rivers in the Savannah Basin, including the Salkehatchie and Coosewhatchie rivers, are below their 10th percentile flows.”
Said Athena Strickland, a drought committee member and technical services manager for Domtar Paper-Marlboro Mill: “We maintained the incipient drought status for the Northeast Drought Management Area (Pee Dee River Basin) due to minimal rainfall in the previous month. Overall, conditions have improved but the Pee Dee remains fairly dry.”
South Carolina has dealt with drought conditions since late March.
Dry conditions were primarily limited to coastal counties during the spring, but then quickly expanded statewide during the summer and continued to linger throughout the fall.
“It is good news that more counties are drought-free, but we should be cautiously optimistic since the winter forecast is for below-normal rainfall,” SCDNR Water Resources Climatologist Elliot Wickham said.