After one of the driest, warmest winters on record, another South Carolina county was designated Wednesday as being in a severe drought.
The State Drought Response Committee added Aiken County to the list of six other counties in the upper Savannah River Basin in a severe drought status. The rest of the state remains in a moderate drought.
Under state law, a declaration of a severe drought normally requires restrictions on the use of water and its withdrawal from streams and rivers. It generally means such conditions only occur about 5 percent of the time.
Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Abbeville, McCormick and Edgefield counties already were in a severe drought as designated by the state. The U.S. Drought monitor shows sections of Aiken County as the driest in the state and classified that area as being in an exceptional drought.
State Climatologist Hope Mizzell told the panel in a statewide conference call that South Carolina has just come through one of the three warmest winters on record and the 13th driest. The only other winters that were as warm were in 1931-3 and 1948-49.
Rain in the winter is vital to replenishing water in South Carolina.
Despite last weekend’s heavy rain in some areas, rainfall statewide has been below normal for the past three months. And forecasts indicate it will be warmer and drier than normal through the end of June.
Representatives of water systems around the state said they have enough water now but are closely watching the situation. There may not be any real relief until fall.
Mizzell said there are indications that an El Nino pattern will return later this year.
“That would be great because an El Nino tends to bring us above normal precipitation, but then again that’s a long ways out and we have to go through the rest of the summer before we can get there,” she said.
The committee was told that rivers and streams are running below normal, although they do replenish briefly as a result of events like the heavy rains of last weekend.
Doug Mills of the state Forestry Commission said that because of the warm spring, vegetation greened up earlier and there weren’t as many wildfires during the late winter and spring fire season.
He said this year only about 1,000 acres burned, compared to an average year of about 6,000 acres.