What drought? Technically it's still severe, but rains have helped

Atkins Landing in Moncks Corner on March 26, 2008. Recent rains have raised the water level in Lake Moultrie more than six feet.

BONNEAU BEACH — Ed Riley did something last weekend he hadn't done in nearly six months. He launched his motorboat into Lake Moultrie.

Water had finally taken over the dry Bonneau Beach landing near his lakeside home. The horizon, for the first time in months, was dotted with the boats of largemouth bass fishermen instead of the stump fields of the lake bottom. And the fishermen were slaying them.

"Oh, it was a great feeling to be able to get back on the lake," he said. "It's good to see other people out on the water again."

The drought that kept the Lowcountry in a chokehold last fall seems to have loosened its grip. With a slew of rain across the state since the first of the year, Lake Moultrie has climbed more than 6 feet from its lowest point and is now only about three feet below full pond. The Edisto River at Givhans had been more sandbar than stream, but is now running six feet deep.

But rainfall for the year is still more than two inches below normal, in the Lowcountry and across most of the state. South Carolina is still technically in severe drought. And the trees have begun to leaf, drawing more water from the ground. People have begun to water lawns, and other demands for water will rise along with temperatures.

Everyone is holding his breath over whether enough rain will keep falling to save the region from conditions like last year's. That six months of drought last year left the Lowcountry as dry as the worst of the 1998-2002 drought. Forecasters say there are no strong climate signs to suggest what's going to happen over the next three months.

"There are some trends that point to below normal precipitation in South Carolina, but they're very weak. We're not betting the odds one way or the other. It looks more like an average kind of summer," said Ed O'Lenic, Climate Prediction Center operations chief.

"Hopefully, the drought won't get worse," said meteorologist Andrew Ulrich with AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting company.

Given that uncertainty, continuing to recover from drought might just come down to whether tropical storms blow our way.

Meanwhile, Bonneau Beach residents who had taken to sunset strolls off the ends of their docks, have lost their "beachfront" properties, at least for now.

"Yes," Riley said chuckling. "But we're glad of that."

Reach Bo Petersen at 745-5852 or bpetersen@postandcourier.com.