Drought level in Aiken County is incipient, according to S.C. Drought Response Committee

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Jul. 1—Even though there has been rain locally recently and more is in the weekend forecast, the S.C. Drought Response Committee changed Thursday the designation for Aiken County from normal to incipient.

Incipient is the first level of drought. The others are moderate, severe and extreme.

Also among the counties upgraded by the panel from normal to incipient were Barnwell and Edgefield.

South Carolina has 46 counties and all are experiencing drought conditions.

The panel upgraded 13 counties — including Charleston, Beaufort, Dorchester and Colleton — from incipient to moderate and the rest from normal to incipient.

Some indicators evaluated by the committee were already showing more advanced stages of drought, according to a press release from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, or SCDNR.

Based on one of those indicators, the U.S. Drought Monitor, the drought level is moderate in 52% of the Palmetto State and severe in 10%.

The committee tries to avoid two-level increases in drought designation unless there is an overwhelming consensus among the indicators.

Elliot Wickham, SCDNR water resources climatologist, said that the areas in the Palmetto State that are in moderate and severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, have been dealing with dry conditions since May.

Sixty-day precipitation deficits and above normal temperatures in June caused intense soil moisture deficits to develop in those locations, he explained.

In addition, Wickham said, evaporation rates also have been elevated, which means more frequent rain and higher rainfall totals are needed "just to keep up with the water lost to evaporation."

According to the SCDNR release, the primary drought impacts that have been reported recently are to agriculture.

Forest fire conditions also are a concern.

"Rainfall totals have been sporadic," said Kayla Stroman, agriculture program specialist with the Farm Service Agency Office. "Corn and tobacco crops are suffering. Hay production is low, and many producers are already feeding their winter hay and selling cows. Ponds and creeks are much lower than they were a few weeks ago."

Because of worsening drought conditions, wildfires in South Carolina have increased, based on S.C. Forestry Commission statistics.

In June, the Forestry Commission responded to 196 wildfires that burned more than 1,150 acres. Compared to the 10-year average, there was an increase of more than 170% in the number of fires and an increase of more than 230% in the amount of acres burned for June.

"These conditions increase the risk of damaging wildfires that can threaten the public, homes and developed areas," said Darryl Jones, forest protection chief for the Forestry Commission. "And it makes it more challenging and increases safety concerns for firefighters on the ground."

The Drought Response Committee will reconvene in two weeks to review drought indicators and impacts, according to the SCDNR release.

The National Weather Service in Columbia's forecast for Aiken as of Friday afternoon was calling for a 30% chance of precipitation Saturday and Saturday night.

The chance of precipitation was 50% for Sunday and 30% for Sunday night.

Also as of Friday afternoon, Monday's chance of precipitation was 40% for the July 4 holiday. The chance Monday evening was 30%.

A hazardous weather outlook statement issued by the National Weather Service in Columbia early Friday morning warned that there could be isolated severe storms Sunday afternoon and evening. The primary threat identified was damaging wind gusts.

It rained in Aiken on Friday, and the National Weather Service in Columbia issued an afternoon flood advisory.