Below normal winter rainfall leads to continued drought woes

Since December first many areas of the state have received 60 percent or below normal rainfall this winter and that moved the state drought response committee to meet in Columbia Thursday morning. The entire state is experiencing drought or abnormally dry conditions. State Climatologist Hope Mizzell says the upstate continues to suffer from extreme drought while most of the eastern part of the state is in the first level of drought. Mizzell says understanding that water usage increases during the spring, the committee approved unanimously a recommendation that urges individuals in the extreme drought counties to carefully consider their water needs and reduce unnecessary water use. Mizzell says the news was not all bad. “The committee did recognize some improvement based on reservoir storage, lake storage in the Catawba-Wateree basin, and that area was downgraded one level to moderate.  The rest of the state was maintained with the nine upstate counties in extreme.”
Mizzell says a number of areas in the upstate are already under mandatory water restrictions.
Hope says a number of counties near the coast have resurfaced on the state’s drought map. “15 counties along the coast and in the Pee Dee region were upgraded to the first level of drought.  They had been downgraded last fall thanks to some summer and fall rainfall. However, now since due to the dry conditions since January first, they were brought back into that first level of drought.”
Mizzell says with the drought situation, especially in the upstate, lake levels are understandably well below normal. “The Savannah River Basin is the primary area that has the most serious conditions right now with the Lake Hartwell elevation and Lake Thurmond also being very low. There was optimism with some of the rainfall in December, there was some improvement, but with the below normal rainfall in January and February those lake levels have again started to decline.”
Mizzell says the main concern now is that a time generally before spring when the state’s water levels should be replenishing, the rainfall is just not there.
“The winter is the period that you depend on for your recharge. You recharge your ground water and you recharge your surface water. Without that winter rainfall you’re not replenishing that bank account before you get into the time of the year when you’re spending more and spending more meaning water usage increases and evapo-transporation increases.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor released a map last week showing South Carolina among only five U.S. states with counties suffering from extreme drought.