Lately, South Carolinians have been talking about the weather. Not as a mere pleasantry, but because we seem to be experiencing several days in a row of rain. Even your Facebook friends have probably either posted or commented on some sort of meme involving epic deluges and flooding. But, all kidding aside, the flooding has been real. Several rivers throughout the state have reached flooding stages, causing road closures and even some parks that border rivers to restrict certain areas of access due to local flooding.
But all these rains have had one very positive effect. Back on January 30th, the South Carolina Drought Response Committee declared the entire state of South Carolina drought-free. That’s definitely music to our local farmers’ ears, because just last October, 27 counties were experiencing some level of drought, with 6 of those counties determined to be in “extreme drought.” It was so extreme, the state’s Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, declared South Carolina’s drought a natural disaster in several parts of the state. And the previous month didn’t help, with temperatures breaking record highs. With more than 25 thousand farms across the state, farmers faced serious issues with the lack of rain, for both crops and livestock.
So, has this latest round of drought-relieving rains brought a new hope for a better spring, and possibly lessened the chances of extreme drought conditions in South Carolina? We bent the ear of South Carolina Emergency Information Management meteorologist Ray Hawthorne, who has been carefully studying these patterns, to find out why last year’s temperatures and paltry rainfall occurred, and if our recent wet winter is a positive sign for a healthier spring, and perhaps fewer droughts this summer.
According to Hawthorne, the latest data coming out of the Climate Prediction Center is forecasting odds to be in favor of a somewhat wet spring for South Carolina, particularly over the Upstate region, with slight favorability for wet conditions to continue into the summer months as well. Ray notes that the weather pattern for the state has changed quite a bit over the last two to three months, and points to a very strong polar vortex that’s keeping the cold air bottled across northern Canada. Hawthorne says when that happens, a very fast, upper-level wind flow from west to east occurs over the lower-48 states, which creates storms from the Pacific across the southern United States that eventually make their way to South Carolina. Hawthorne says that weather pattern is part of the reason why we’ve had such a wet winter so far here in South Carolina, and that the state may have to brace for more flooding.
As for why South Carolina endured such extreme drought conditions in late 2019, Hawthorne explained that much of the blame rests primarily on the shoulders of Hurricane Dorian, and some with Hurricane Humberto, which followed soon afterward. At the time Dorian blew through the Carolinas in early September, much of inland South Carolina had already been suffering some level of drought.
Hawthorne points out that Dorian moved along the eastern part of the state, leaving behind a very large, dominant high-pressure system that “just parked itself over much of the southeast.” That caused conditions in not only South Carolina, but nearby Georgia, Alabama, and parts of Tennessee to dry out even more, extending the time each of those states spent dealing with droughts. In other words, Hurricane Dorian, ironically, caused a domino effect that further dried out the state for several weeks afterward. In Hawthorne’s words, “track is everything.”
Dorian tracked along the east of South Carolina. But if a hurricane primarily tracks west of the state, for example, if a predominant storm track were to track through the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico, and up to the west of the South Carolina, Hawthorne says that track would tend to open the door to Gulf moisture, and more rainfall.