Extreme Drought Conditions Now Appearing in Upstate SC

Dry and getting drier across the Carolinas, that is the story and it’s probably not a surprise to you because you haven’t seen any rainfall either. I’m Mike Davis with Corey Davis here from the State Climate Office of North Carolina. What are you seeing right now, Corey?

Well, Mike, I feel like I’m the bearer of bad news every week lately because we do not have any improvements to talk about, especially on the US Drought Monitor. Like you said, we’re off to a bone-dry start to November, many areas haven’t seen any measurable rainfall since the middle of October. So those drought conditions continue to expand and continue to degrade across the Carolinas. This week we’ve seen an expansion of severe drought. This is the D2 level into the western and southern Piedmont in the sand hills in North Carolina. We’ve now got moderate drought in place across the southern coastal plains, including the Wilmington area and North Carolina. In this week, maybe most notably, we’ve got a patch of extreme drought. This is the D3 level in Greenville and Spartanburg County, South Carolina. The last time they were at that level was back in 2016. We remember the fall drought that year, and how bad it was and we’re already getting into those conditions, at least in some areas now. So again, just speaks to how dry the fall has been many areas on pace for a record dry fall, at least in recent memory. And again, no rain so far this month, but hoping that’ll change soon.

How unusual is it that we’re seeing some D3 levels of drought right now, Corey?

Yeah, the US Drought Monitor classification actually breaks these categories in to how often we would expect that level of dryness and for the d3 level, this is the type of dryness we would only expect every 20 to 40 years or so. So very rare to get into this level of dryness. Again, we had some back in 2016. Before that a lot of places were in that d3 level back in the 2007 and 2008 drought. We remember how prolonged that was lasting over a couple of years. Thankfully haven’t seen too much of that. In recent years. But again, we are getting close to that point again here in 2023.

So let’s take a look real quick at the forecast any chance that we’re going to get anything that’s going to break this?

Well, it’s not going to be a drought buster by any means, but we are looking at a couple of better rain chances over the next few days. One of those will come today there’s a cold front that’s pushed through this morning. We could see some scattered showers along that front during the day to day, the better chance of rain will come on Sunday. That front is expected to stall just off to our south and we should see some more shower activity beginning Saturday night and especially during the morning and afternoon hours on Sunday. The totals are generally looking at maybe a quarter to a half inch across North Carolina, maybe a little bit higher across South Carolina. Some areas like Columbia and Myrtle Beach could see upwards of an inch. Just any rain at this point is welcome especially for the folks that haven’t seen any and almost a month. So even though this won’t fully get rid of the drought and may not even lead to any improvements on next week’s map. This will at least kind of stop the bleeding for the moment in terms of those degradations.

Speaking of that front coming through, it has been unseasonably warm, kind of a false summer that we’ve had over the past week or so. Looks like that’s going to be coming to an end with this front as well.

That’s right. Highs shot up into the low 80s yesterday. We can count on one hand the number of times it’s been that warm this late in the year but we’ll only be in the 60s today. Probably in the 50s tomorrow and Sunday. So the warm weather at least will be subsiding. And that is good news especially for the wildfires out in the western part of the Carolinas. There’s been just this perfect combination of ingredients between the warm temperatures, the lower humidity, the first freeze last week also killed off some of the vegetation and then we’re seeing that leaf drop so all that is just adding even more fuel to the fires that have been burning out there. And there’s some really impressive numbers last week. The Cherokee County Fire was at 90 acres a week ago. It’s at more than 3000 acres now. So just immense growth over this last week. And again, the conditions have pretty much been perfect for it. Unfortunately, because that means we are seeing more severe and more widespread fires at the moment.

Speaking of the drought in the in the western counties of North and South Carolina, I think you are getting some information from how it’s impacting livestock. Tell me about that.

That’s right. On the drought call in North Carolina this week, we got a report from Ashe County in the far northern mountains. It said some of the livestock farmers they are having to feed hay, which is four to six weeks earlier than they would normally do at this time of the year. We haven’t dealt with this type of situation much in recent years. But this is the sort of situation where if that keeps up if we don’t get more rain than those farmers could be forced to sell some of that livestock later in the season. So this is typical of what we tend to see when we get it that D2 that severe drought level. That’s when drought starts to have a real impact on people’s livelihoods. Whether it’s things like water conservation restrictions, or in this case for farmers may be coming in to sell off some of their livestock and they just don’t have enough hay to feed them for the season.

So it’s really starting to make a difference and agriculture, particularly in the western parts of North and South Carolina.