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Lowcountry Rainfall for May sets All-Time Record

Predicting the weather is always tough, but no one guessed that May of 2018 would be the wettest May on record for many portions of the Lowcountry. The entire state experienced wet weather in May and the S.C. Drought Response Committee met on May 29, removing Colleton County from the incipient drought category. We look to weather records to compare recent activity with past weather cycles, and the results for rainfall during the month of May are fascinating. Factoring in that the first named storm of hurricane season arrived on Memorial Day, the forecast for continued wet weather look likely.

The month of April brought cooler than expected temperatures and less than average rainfall. In fact, thirteen counties were listed in incipient drought, and the threat of wildfire was real. “Recent rainfall, along with higher humidity, has helped reduce the number of wildfires statewide,” said Brad Bramlett with the S.C. Forestry Commission. “We were well over our five-year and ten-year averages for the number of fires just a month ago.”

Records show that the average rainfall for May in Walterboro from 2013 to 2017 was just 3.65-inches, but that trend came to a halt in 2018. Rainfall records in S.C. began in the 1930’s and the Charleston airport measured 10.62-inches of rain in May of 2018, the new record for wettest month of May. The community of Smoaks in western Colleton County also recorded 10-inches of rain in May, while the city of Walterboro and other parts of Colleton county saw rainfall amounts vary.

Looking deeper into rainfall records for May in Charleston the previous record for wettest month of May was 1957 when 9.28-inches was recorded. The previous number two record came in 1967 when 8.91-inches was recorded, the previous number three record came in 1976 when 8.87-inches was recorded, and the prior number four record came in 1948 when 8.30-inches was recorded.

Those records carry symmetry in that a very wet May came once about every ten years for several decades. Does the new record from May 2018 indicate that we will return to a similar pattern?Only time will tell, but the weather records offer good baseline data to refer too.

The weather pattern across the state during the latter half of the month of May brought consistent rainfall. So much rain that it recharged groundwater, stream flows and wiped out lake level deficits. These improvements across a range of indicators allowed the S.C. state climatologist, meteorologist and hydrologist to agree that South Carolina is drought free for the first time in two years dating back to July 8, 2016. With the arrival of hotter weather and the summer months of June, July and August it’s hard to predict what comes next in terms of rainfall.
Sub-tropical Storm Alberto became the first named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, and brought substantial rainfall to the coastline areas including Edisto. The National Oceanic and

Atmospheric Administration predicts a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season for 2018. A prediction of 10 to 16 named storms includes the chance for 1 to 4 major hurricanes, and we know from experience that even one such storm can bring major challenges to the Lowcountry. Tropical rainfall from these storms often serves to keep the Lowcountry from slipping into drought, and 2018 should be no different.

NOAA relays that a weak El Nino pattern along with near-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are two factors driving their 2018 outlook. These factors and a suite of other atmospheric conditions are conducive to hurricane development, with active hurricane seasons trending upward since 1995. NOAA will update the 2018 predictions in August just prior to the peak of hurricane season.

For now, the current conditions on the ground for many Colletonians simply translates into having the cut their grass more often. Both livestock and wildlife benefit from having ample drinking water, and farmers shouldn’t need to irrigate crops as much except perhaps during critical stages in growth. The afternoon thunderstorm rains seem to be hit or miss so hopefully no one area gets more rainfall than they can support. Too much of anything, whether rainfall or drought, can stress our fragile natural resources.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (331 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com