Spiders, bugs and no hurricanes mark the start of fall

Top: A change of season is pulling in drier weather after a cool, wet summer, bringing out more bugs than usual.

The spiders came out of nowhere, it seemed — big ones and a lot of them, spinning webs across the Lowcountry. Now just as quickly they seem to be fading away.

The fanged arthropods were the latest in what seems to have been plagues of mosquitoes, mice, snakes and even feral hogs turning up in unexpected numbers or places — a phenomenon driven at least partly by incessant rains.

It’s been that kind of freaky summer, soaking wet and not so scorching.

Now the rains have eased. We’re moving into fall. A bit before 5 p.m. Sunday, the tilting earth shrugs its shoulders and the sun as we see it dips below the equator — the autumn equinox. It brings what many say is the prettiest light of the year, sunlight that seems to glisten in the leaves.

But the year and the summer have been full of surprises, and the coming months just might be, too:

It’s anybody’s guess. There’s no El Nino or La Nina — Pacific Ocean temperature variations that create winds affecting the Southeast. So long-range weather forecasters don’t have their chief guide to what to expect over the next months.

The official forecasts are “low confidence,” said Hope Mizzell, state climatologist.

The national Climate Prediction Center on Friday called for drier than normal conditions in the Southeast through January; it said there’s an equal chance of higher or lower temps than normal.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac earlier called for a drier than normal winter. Its soothsayers also called for colder than normal weather and more snowfall than normal in February.

The jet stream didn’t play nice, churning up high-altitude winds that drove wet tropical winds into South Carolina from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The double whammy drenched us.

That abnormal jet stream now has shifted closer to normal, Mizzell said. And the region is moving into what traditionally are its driest months.

There probably weren’t many more spiders or webs than usual this past month, but they might have grown a little bigger than usual. The wet year meant more bugs in general, as standing water gave them more room to breed. More bugs meant more for spiders to eat. And bigger spiders meant bigger webs.

“It makes sense,” said Laurie Reid, S.C. Forestry Commission entomologist.

The spiders and webs didn’t appear out of nowhere; they were in the bushes all along. Spiders that hatched from last year’s eggs then “ballooned,” or kited away on delicate streamers of silk to find their niches. They grew as big as they were going to get in late August and early September, and that’s when people tend to start noticing, Reid said.

But once nighttime temperatures drop into the 60s, she said, the spiders fall back.

OK. Nobody is going to admit this out loud yet, but forecasters have begun to cross their fingers.

No major hurricanes — storms with winds more than 110 mph — have formed. The peak of the season has passed. The devastating Hurricane Hugo, which made landfall in Charleston on Sept. 21, 1989, formed in August. Hurricane Gracie, the “late” storm that wracked the Lowcountry in 1959, is widely considered to have happened in October. But it made landfall Sept. 29 after it first was spotted in the far Atlantic on Sept. 18.

But it’s still too early to breathe easy. The one major hurricane on record making landfall here in October is the infamous Hazel, in 1954. It formed in early October in the far Atlantic and made landfall Oct. 15 on the South Carolina-North Carolina border, with winds of more than 100 mph at Myrtle Beach.

So far this year, Saharan dust storms in Africa and persistent shear winds have knocked down anything that could have headed our way — helped along by the Bermuda High. Despite concern in late August that the tropics were about to get active, they have remained relatively quiet, and nothing seems to be stirring out there.

But the outlook for the next few weeks is a set of mixed signals. The dust is settling, the fickle high weakening and shifting. Sure, no major storm yet. But 10 named storms so far through Saturday still suggests an active season.

As state Climate Office severe weather liaison Mark Malsick said, he quits watching the tropics when he starts shopping for Christmas trees.