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November 23, 2010

Drought Response Committee maintains status, long term forecast indicates potential ongoing drought

The Drought Response Committee voted on Nov. 23 to maintain the first level of drought for 37 counties. Marlboro, Dillon, Marion, Florence, Horry, Williamsburg, Georgetown, Berkeley, and Charleston counties continue with no drought status. The incipient drought declaration is followed by increasing levels of severity to moderate, severe and extreme status. The committee was concerned over the strong likelihood of drought conditions worsening through the normal winter recharge season, although some temporary relief can be expected as water usage is typically lower in the winter months.

Hope Mizzell, S.C State Climatologist stated, "Most of South Carolina has experienced below normal rainfall since early September. The building deficit coupled with a forecast for a dry winter prompted S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to convene the committee to ensure that members and the public were prepared for potential worsening conditions."

During incipient drought, DNR activates the Drought Information Center and increases monitoring and notification of the drought status.

Scott Willett with the Anderson Regional Joint Water System said the current lower water usage will begin to rise as spring approaches, "Right now outdoor water use is traditionally low, but once lawns are being watered and gardens planted we'll see usage begin to spike."

Northeast Drought Management Area committee member Mike Hancock from Lugoff- Elgin Water Authority stated, "We are dealing with a La Nina condition. Historically, La Nina means we can receive significantly lower rainfall. If conditions continue to follow the historical pattern then we will experience substantially lower rainfall through spring 2011."

Darryl Jones, S.C. Forestry Commission, reported that continuing dry conditions will result in an increase in wildfire activity across the state, "While fire occurrence has been close to normal so far this fall, we are concerned that dry conditions might continue through the winter. If it remains dry, we will probably see an extended wildfire season that lasts until spring. During the drought, wildfires start easier, burn more intensely and are harder to control because more fuel is available. With a drought and our ongoing resource shortages, we are concerned that we will see higher losses from wildfires." Please contact Darryl Jones for questions about wildfire activity at (803) 896-8800.

Stan Simpson with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says they have already reacted to the initial drought stage by lowering outflow from the Savannah River Basin lakes, "We tripped our first level of drought in August of this year and dropped to 4200 CFS (cubic feet per second) of daily outflow, to 4000 in mid-October. We expect that number to drop further still to 3800 in mid-January."

The information conveyed by the indicators was mixed and did not prompt immediate change, but committee members emphasized that if the below normal forecast for rainfall is verified, they will reconvene in mid-January. The committee also decided that with lower water demands during winter, action being taken at the local level is sufficient at this time.

Contact South Carolina State Climatologist Hope Mizzell in Columbia at (803) 530-5793 or e-mail at mizzellh@dnr.sc.gov for more information.

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