Second-driest April on record leaves county parched but not panicked

gmartin@islandpacket.comMay 1, 2012 

April showers, as the saying goes, bring May flowers. The results of prolonged dry spells, however -- like the one affecting Beaufort County -- are decidedly less poetic.

Only 0.53 inches of rain fell at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in April, which is less than 20 percent of the month's historical average of 2.76, according to the S.C. State Climatology Office.

That makes it the second-driest April on record, dating to 1893.

The effects of the arid weather are especially noticeable at golf courses, which are much more brown and barren than normal this time of year, according to Reed Weatherford, head professional at Lady's Island Golf Club.

"We irrigate using water from a pond on our property," he said. "But right now, we're draining that pond quicker than we can keep it full."

Cary Corbitt, president of the S.C. Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association, said the drought could bring about problems beyond the purely cosmetic for his members.

"A lot of the courses here use between a half-million and 750,000 gallons of water a day," he said.

Several courses receive their water from the South Island Public Service District, he said, which recently raised its irrigation costs about 40 percent, to 85 cents per 1,000 gallons.

That increase could result in those courses paying irrigation costs of more than $600 a day.

But while the dry conditions might create headaches for golf course owners, they couldn't be more welcome for Greg Fox of Bluffton-based Orlando and Sons Irrigation.

"We've been very busy; it's not rocket science," he said. "This time of year is always pretty busy, but more people seem to be more anxious and concerned this time of year than usual."

The weather's also a concern for local firefighters, said Capt. Randy Hunter of the Bluffton Township Fire District.

"We're certainly aware that conditions are drier than normal," he said. "We've been very fortunate, given these conditions, that there have only been a few small fires recently, nothing newsworthy."

Hunter advised residents starting fires on their property to exercise "tremendous caution," citing coastal gusts that could carry an ember into unusually flammable areas.

Despite the conditions, there's no threat at this point to the local water supply, said Hilton Head Public Service District spokesman Pete Nardi.

"We're in a good position drought-wise," he said, adding that demand for the district's water supply tends not to peak until early July, when it reaches about 11 million gallons per day.

Matthew Brady of the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, which services much of northern Beaufort County, agreed that the local water supply isn't in danger.

The authority receives more than 95 percent of its water from the Savannah River, Brady said, calling it "an abundant and sustainable water supply."

He added that the authority has never mandated conservation measures for its customers and was unlikely to implement them anytime soon.

"We haven't seen anything to make us worry," he said. "But like everybody else, we'd love to see some rain."

According to the climatology office, he may have to be patient. April is the third-driest month of the year, on average.

The second-driest?

May.

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