Rain finally came. Just not enough to make a difference.
“Even though we’ve had some recent widespread rainfall across the state,” said Leonard Vaughan with the National Weather Service in Columbia, “it’s not enough to improve the drought conditions that currently exist.”
Almost half an inch of rain fell on Lake Wylie as November turned to December, ending a dry spell dating back to early October when Hurricane Matthew brought showers here and flooding elsewhere in the state. Drought conditions have caused low lake levels, boat ramp closings and calls for voluntary water conservation, as well as burn bans to wildfires elsewhere.
York County remains in moderate drought, the second of four drought stages. Residents are asked to conserve water and energy.
The three westernmost counties in South Carolina are in severe drought, followed by 16 counties, including York at moderate, and 14 at incipient drought. There are 13 northeast counties not in drought.
In North Carolina, Gaston County is in severe drought and Mecklenburg in moderate, according to North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council. The group’s website ncdrought.org, lists 19 of 100 counties in a drought stage.
Parts of South Carolina that were under water two months ago are now in drought. The South Carolina Drought Response Committee on Thursday announced 11 low state counties — including some on the Coast — are in the first drought stage.
“It’s hard to believe that, in early October, many of these counties received more than 10 inches of rain,” said Hope Mizzell, state climatologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “But with no rain since then, they’ve now slipped into a drought.”
The Pinnacle Mountain fire in west South Carolina has grown to more than 10,500 acres, the third largest in state history. As of Thursday it was about 60 percent contained and already cost about $4.5 million.
“Long-range predictions continue to show above-normal wildfire potential through the month of December,” said Doug Mills, officer with the South Carolina Forestry Commission. “The concern for wildfires will be exasperated by leaf fall occurring on top of already-dry fuels, creating yet another layer of fuel in the short term.”
Farmers are facing issues with crops and livestock.
“From an agricultural perspective, the drought is becoming more severe, respectively, across the state,” said Aaron Wood, assistant commissioner with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
On Lake Wylie
Locally, the concern is a lake growing shallower. Joe Stowe, executive director for Lake Wylie Marine Commission, said his group is getting calls from boaters.
“We have had several phone calls saying there are certain areas that were not a problem, that are now a problem,” Stowe said.
A site on the Catawba River north of Lake Wylie under Highway 27 bridge heading from Mount Holly to Charlotte could cause problems during times of low water. A flood almost a century ago sank an entire train trestle and the train on it.
“The whole darn thing fell down,” Stowe said. “The train is under water.”
Stowe said the train cars can be a problem, having hit one once.
“It would be hard to explain to your insurance people,” Stowe said. “I hit a train.”
Nivens Creek Access Area was the only boat ramps open for almost a month on Lake Wylie. Stowe said during a recent stop there, he found 11 boats lined to go out on the water.
“Most people are aware the lake is really down,” Stowe said. “You just say be careful, that’s all we can do.”
All three boat ramps at Ebenezer Park are officially open.
Late Friday afternoon, York County announced it was re-opening all three ramps at Ebenezer Park in Rock Hill. Ramps there were closed Nov. 7 due to low water levels.
“It has been determined that guests can now launch their boat safely into the water,” according to a county news release. “Guests should use caution while using the ramps and navigating the lake as the water levels are still extremely low.”
Catalin Trif hasn’t seen train cars in Lake Wylie, but he is seeing miles more of shoreline. Trif founded lakepedia.com, an online encyclopedia of lakes. The site looks at drought from the West Coast to the Southeast to China and elsewhere.
“While the drought in California gets a lot of coverage nationally and internationally, the Southeast and the Northeast are experiencing severe droughts, as well,” Trif said. “I think it’s very important to learn to properly manage water resources everywhere.”
A recent article on the site highlighted low water conditions on a dozen lakes in the Carolinas, Alabama and Georgia. Satellite imagery showed the same lakes, including Lake Wylie, in late 2016 compared to the same shot a year ago.
“Many of the lakes in northern Alabama, northern Georgia and western North Carolina have shrunk visibly in just one year,” Trif said.
The change in some lakes was “particularly shocking,” he said, and should drive home the importance of conservation.
“As the impact of climate change becomes more and more evident, droughts are likely to become more common and intense,” Trif said. “We should treat water as the important resource that it is, and be more mindful of how we use it.”
Experts say the ongoing drought is as severe as the record drought of 2007-08.
“This is one of the most profound droughts I’ve ever experienced,” said state drought committee member Dennis Chastain. “It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.”