All of South Carolina is now considered to be in early drought stage, according to a declaration by a state committee Thursday.
The Drought Response Committee voted Thursday to upgrade the entire state’s drought status to the lowest level of “incipient.” In September, the committee placed nine counties in the Midlands and Savannah River regions in the incipient level. But the decision came only after some debate, especially as most weather forecasts predict rain this upcoming weekend.
“There was a lot of discussion about whether to upgrade certain counties, especially in the Upstate since there was not overwhelming support by all indicators,” State Climatologist Hope Mizzell said. “However, the committee decided to err on the side of caution and upgrade the declaration.”
Mizzell said low rainfall this fall was of concern, along with falling lake levels. A gauge in the town of Bluffton recorded only 1.44 inches of rain over the past two months, while an Aiken gauge recorded only 1.58 inches. Meanwhile, she said Lake Jocassee was nearly ten feet below full pool.
It’s the first time the entire state has been under a drought designation since April 2013. Previously only nine counties were considered to be in incipient drought. The committee recognized the forecast for heavy rain next week, but decided to upgrade the incipient status statewide. “It’s just almost like a watch,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “Hopefully, we won’t be in it very long. Hopefully we can downgrade quickly if we get these rainfalls.”
The incipient drought declaration is followed by moderate, severe and then extreme status.
State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said the weather earlier this year has impacted crops.
“While the dry weather this fall has contributed to a good and productive harvest season, the lack of timely rainfall during the 2014 growing season was a challenge in some parts of the state,” he said in a statement. “Irrigation boosted yields for many producers, which is an important reminder that we stay vigilant in planning and managing the use of our water resources.”