The Lowcountry is drying out, big time.
Newly planted trees look like they're dying along Mathis Ferry Road in Mount Pleasant. Water is disappearing from the ponds that irrigate crops across the sea islands that community customers have bought in shares.
Today or Thursday, the state's drought committee will make it official -- Charleston and Berkeley counties have joined Dorchester and Colleton counties in a declared "incipient drought." Incipient means there is the threat of drought.
The committee was waiting to see what the rain last weekend would do for the coastal counties, said Hope Mizzell, state climatologist. But storms that dumped an inch or more on the Midlands and Upstate gave out when they hit the coast.
The forecast doesn't look any better, Mizzell said -- below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures at least for the next two weeks.
"That combination isn't encouraging. All the indicators are drought," she said.
As close as Walterboro or Moncks Corner, as much as an inch of rain fell last weekend. At Charleston's official station, the Charleston International Airport, only .01 inch fell, said Jonathan Lamb, National Weather Service meteorologist. The station on Tuesday was more than 7 inches below normal for the year, with almost half that deficit coming in May alone, he said.
Longer range, the federal Climate Prediction Center is giving an equal chance for enough or not enough rain in the region over the next three months, Lamb and Mizzell said.
"We're concerned that (drought) might be a longer term trend," Lamb said.
The irrigation pond at Ambrose Family Farm on Wadmalaw Island is getting lower. That could eventually spell trouble for produce for the farm's community-supported program. Eddie Ambrose, keeping an eye on his own as well as other farm ponds, said he is one of the luckier ones. He still has a few weeks of water left.
"It hasn't gotten critical for me. I would say it's gotten critical for a lot of people in the Lowcountry," Ambrose said
In Mount Pleasant, where the removal of decaying trees destroyed a canopy along Mathis Ferry Road that was prized by residents, the new plantings are losing their leaves. Town crews started watering the trees daily on Thursday, after taking over from contractor crews.
"There are some trees whose leaves have gone down. It's a combination of things, I believe. But certainly, drought is one of them. Trees react to stresses like drought by defoliating. The average person would look at them and think they were dead," said town arborist Eddie Bernard. But so far, the trees are still alive. "They will put leaves back on. In a month, if they look the way they do now I'll be worried."
The incipient status would mean the state is looking at its fourth go-round in 13 years of a plaguing, off-and-on drought. A five-year drought from 1998 to 2002 dropped lake levels so low that the Edisto River in places was little more than rivulets and shallower areas of Lake Moultrie could be walked upon.