U.S. Water News Online
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's four-year drought hasn't
featured the barren cropland and the rolling dust storms that
normally come to mind when the weather turns dry.
The worst effects of this drought are harder to see.
Underground, wells in the northern part of the state are drying up
as not enough rain makes it through the soil to recharge the water
table. Streams have slowed to a trickle, and lake levels are well
below normal, exposing stumps and debris that haven't been seen since
before the rivers were dammed.
Columbia has recorded its third driest year ever in 2001 with
rainfall 20 inches below normal. The capital city, which averages
nearly 50 inches of rain a year, is more than 59 inches below normal
since the start of 1998. Greenville, Charleston, and Florence are all
10 inches below normal rainfall this year, reflecting what's been
seen across most of the state.
With crops harvested and water demand low in the winter, drought
talk has eased, state climatologist Milt Brown said. But South
Carolina soon will face another critical time in the spring when
farmers begin to plant crops and water needs begin to rise.
``It doesn't look too bad on the surface, but it can return to a
bad situation quickly if the rain doesn't come this spring,'' Brown
The drought started in the summer of 1998 with no end in sight.
Greenville's rainfall is nearly 42 inches below normal in the past
four years, while Florence is running 25.3 inches below normal.
Charleston was more than 16 inches above normal in rain in 1998, but
has fallen 22 inches behind in the past three years.
``To a certain extent, drought can bring more drought,'' said Rich
Tinker, a meteorologist with the national climate prediction center
in Camp Springs, Md.
That's because drier soil doesn't have as much moisture to
evaporate back into the atmosphere, so a storm might be left with
less water to dump as rain. Tinker said, though, four years of
drought doesn't mean the state is becoming drier overall.
``It's premature to say that the dry weather indicates some kind
of change in the climate in South Carolina, particularly because we
can tie some of it to the La Nina effect,'' he said.
La Nina occurs when a large amount of cool water pools around the
equator in the Pacific Ocean. The weather pattern, which often causes
drier-than-normal conditions in the Southeast, is waning, Tinker
Most of the East Coast is suffering from some form of drought,
``but South Carolina certainly seems to be getting the worst of it,''
Officially, the state calls the current situation a moderate
drought. Maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration put most of the state except for the area from
Anderson to Rock Hill and the northern and southern coasts in an
Either way, the earth is parched. And officials are weary of any
forecast offering certain relief in the future.
While federal forecasters predict the drought condition to improve
through March, Brown said, ``they don't really have a lot of
confidence in their outlook.''
Despite the lack of moisture, farms fared well this year because
rain came just when they needed it, Brown said. Peppers, corn,
tomatoes, berries, apples, and most other commercial crops did well.
Late-season soybeans were one of the few crops to show poor yields.
The problems show up in places such as Lake Hartwell, which is 6
feet to 7 feet below normal, leaving docks high and dry and workers
thinking that the only thing that can save them is a rare,
slow-melting heavy snow.
``We're as low as we were last year, and we're not even to the bad
part of winter,'' marina manager Russell McGuffion said.
``It will take several years to get back to normal,'' he said.
``We're going to need twice as much rain as we've been having.''
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