drought status

Drought conditions have improved for much of the state, but Orangeburg and Calhoun counties are still in a moderate drought, according to the S.C. Drought Response Committee.

Bamberg County is in an incipient drought, which is the lowest of the drought stages.

The committee met via conference call on Thursday to review the drought status for all counties

According to Hope Mizzell, S.C. State climatologist, increased rainfall over the last two weeks brought some relief from the drought. The committee is cautiously optimistic, but says it is going to take more than two weeks of normal rainfall to see significant improvement in the overall drought status.

The committee voted to downgrade 11 counties from moderate to incipient drought. They are Anderson, Bamberg, Beaufort, Chesterfield, Colleton, Darlington, Dorchester, Florence, Jasper, Oconee and Pickens counties.

Charleston County was downgraded to no drought.

Berkeley, Marlboro and Dillon counties were maintained at incipient.

Williamsburg, Georgetown, Marion and Horry counties were maintained at no drought.

The remaining counties were maintained at moderate drought status. They are Aiken, Abbeville, Allendale, Barnwell, Calhoun, Chester, Cherokee, Clarendon, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Hampton, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Lee, Lexington, McCormick, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland, Saluda, Spartanburg, Sumter, Union and York counties.

S.C. Department of Natural Resources hydrologist Priyanka More said streamflow levels have notably increased in several counties in the upper Savannah basin and along the coast, supporting the downgrade in drought status from moderate to incipient for these areas.

Though streamflow and lake level conditions have generally improved over the rest of the state as well, groundwater conditions have not shown a strong response and give support to maintaining a moderate drought status for much of the state.

"Although we've had a few days of rainfall, our overall situation has changed very little," said Mike Hancock, Lugoff-Elgin Water Authority general manager. "Groundwater, agriculture and forestry conditions indicate we have a long way to go before any significant drought relief."

Recent rainfall has helped moderate fuel conditions and wildfire danger for most of the state, but just a few days of drying could easily bring fire danger back to the forefront, according to Darryl Jones, forest protection chief at the S.C. Forestry Commission.

"The early part of October was very busy for wildfire activity, and we had more than double the number of wildfires in the state based on our 10-year average," Jones said. "We do want to encourage everyone to be extremely careful when conducting outdoor burning. More than half of the wildfires in South Carolina every year start when a backyard burn escapes."

The rain came too late for some farms.

John Irwin, retired Clemson University Extension Animal Scientist and Laurens County beef producer, stressed to the committee that the drought has already taken its toll on forage production, forcing farmers to plant fall and winter grazing at an accelerated rate.

"The success of the fall grazing is weather dependent and we need a continued pattern of normal rainfall and moderate fall temperatures," Irwin said.

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