The S.C. Drought Response Committee met Jan. 31and downgraded the drought status one level for 26 counties.
Twelve counties were downgraded to moderate: Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Abbeville, McCormick, Greenwood, Edgefield, Saluda, Newberry, Lexington, Aiken and Barnwell.
Fourteen counties were downgraded to incipient: Greenville, Spartanburg, Cherokee, York, Laurens, Union, Chester, Fairfield, Richland, Sumter, Calhoun, Clarendon, Williamsburg and Georgetown.
Eight counties were maintained at moderate drought: Orangeburg, Bamberg, Allendale, Dorchester, Berkeley, Hampton, Colleton and Jasper. Ten counties in the Pee Dee were maintained at incipient drought.
Only two counties were upgraded, Beaufort and Charleston, moving to moderate.
According to S.C. State Climatologist Hope Mizzell, the below-normal rainfall pattern has continued for over half of the state from the midlands to the coast. Charleston Airport recorded its driest January on record with only .35 inches (the previous record was .63 in 1950). Hilton Head Island has only received 2.78 inches since Dec. 1.
Much above-normal rainfall occurred across the region that needed it the most, the Upper Savannah River Basin. Many rainfall observation stations in the northwest corner of the state reported more than 14 inches since Dec. 1. The last time these counties received this much winter rainfall was 2009-2010.
“The committee electing to downgrade only one level was driven by an effort to balance an overly positive five to six weeks of rainfall against a longer-term trend of much below normal rainfall,” said Scott Willett, Anderson Regional Joint Water System executive director.
Scott Harder, S.C. Department of Natural Resources hydrologist, reported above-normal rainfall amounts over the past month and a half have greatly improved stream flow conditions across the upstate and especially in the upper Savannah Basin. As a result, the increased runoff has caused levels in Lake Hartwell to increase by nearly 6 feet and Lake Thurmond by about 3 feet since mid-December.
Darryl Jones with the S.C. Forestry Commission reported, “Based on the long-term deficit of rainfall, we are concerned about the upcoming wildfire season. The peak wildlife season in South Carolina generally runs from mid-February to April. We may be getting an early start since January wildfires exceeded the five-year averages.”
The committee is expected to reconvene in mid-March to reexamine drought conditions around the state.