‘Exceptional drought’ returns quickly with dry fall

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The benefits of a wet August have dried up quickly as fall has brought more of the same &dquo;exceptional&dquo; drought conditions that plagued the area through late spring and summer.

Although the area is receiving more rain this week, it will take much more over an extended period to catch up from recent dry weather. November was the second driest month of the year so far with just 1.5 inches of rainfall in the area, according to National Weather Service measurements in Tryon. It was the driest November here in more than 10 years.

The dry month, which brought rainfall of more than a tenth of an inch on just three days, brought the year-to-date precipitation deficit to 18.10 inches.

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The area is quickly nearing the deficit seen last year of 22.75 inches, the largest shortfall in the past 10 years, including the drought years of 1999 and 2000.

The years of 2007 and 2008 may prove to be two of the driest consecutive years ever in the area. The extended period of below normal precipitation has resulted in severely depleted surface and groundwater supplies and hazardous fire conditions.

Columbus Fire Chief Geoff Tenannt says the top layer of soil remains very dry and residents should &dquo;excercise extreme caution&dquo; to avoid starting fires.

The area did receive some substantial relief in August with 7.83 inches of rain for the month, most of it thanks to the remanants of Tropical Storm Fay.&bsp; Polk County briefly was lowered to &dquo;extreme&dquo; drought, the second highest level. But the dry weather pattern quickly returned with the fall season, and Polk recently was raised back to &dquo;exceptional&dquo; drought status.

Much of Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina is also experiencing the worst level of drought.

Polk is one of 11 North Carolina counties under &dquo;exceptional&dquo; drought, along with 7 South Carolina counties, including Greenville and Spartanburg.