The persistent drought that has parched Beaufort County for more than two years has finally broken.
The S.C. Drought Response Committee downgraded the county Thursday from incipient drought to normal after a wet spell dropped nearly 18 inches of rain on the area between late July and late September.
The change marks the first time since July 2010 that the county has not experienced drought conditions. It's also the first time since early 2011 that any South Carolina county was drought free, according to state climatologist Hope Mizzell.
Bluffton received 7.49 inches of rain between Aug. 27 and Sept. 26, while Daufuskie Island received 6.98 inches and Yemassee received 5.43 inches, according to state data. No specific data was available for Hilton Head Island or Beaufort.
Those late-summer storms couldn't have come at a better time for area farmers, many of whom lost crops during the extended dry spell that began last winter and continued through June.
"You got the dry weather and now have a lot of rain that has come through, which is replenishing the moisture in the ground," said York Glover of the Clemson University Cooperative Extension. "As farmers are getting ready for their fall crop, that is going to help them a lot."
Wetter weather across much of the state improved soil moisture and brought many rivers up to healthy levels. It also helped prevent wildfires during the late summer season.
"We only had 18 fires during August," Darryl Jones of the S.C. Forestry Commission said in a statement. "September is also low."
Beaufort was one of 14 counties downgraded to normal status Thursday. Other making that list were Charleston, Georgetown and several counties in the Pee Dee region. In all, 21 counties were downgraded. Colleton, Jasper and Hampton counties remain classified as being in "incipient" drought, a status unchanged since July.
Despite the gains, state officials warn the situation remains tenuous. Fall is typically one of the driest times of the year, and this season has been no different so far.
"While we certainly welcome lower drought levels around (much of) the state, we remain cautious about what the upcoming forecast will look like," said Brett Witt, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Pete Nardi, community relations manager for the Hilton Head Public Service District, said water remained plentiful during the extended drought. Even so, he urged users to be cautious about water use and to conserve when possible.
Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority spokesman Matthew Brady also urged residents to be cognizant of water use. He said the Savannah River, the utility's main water source, remains "reliable ... for us even during times of drought."