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Drought and near flood at the same time? Yes, in York County. Here’s how.

Scenes of flooding in the Charlotte area

Caldwell and Catawba counties were placed under a State of Emergency and a community on Mecklenburg County was evacuated as flooding threatened the areas Sunday.
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Caldwell and Catawba counties were placed under a State of Emergency and a community on Mecklenburg County was evacuated as flooding threatened the areas Sunday.

Drought and high water don’t typically go together. In the tri-county area, they are now.

York, Lancaster and Chester counties all maintained early-stage drought status when the South Carolina Drought Response Committee met June 13. They are three of 43 counties statewide listed in incipient drought, followed in severity by moderate, severe and extreme in state classifications.

Yet the same day the drought group met, Lake Wylie sat less than a foot from flooding. Lake Wylie came within that foot June 10 and hasn’t fallen below since. The target level for Lake Wylie is 3 feet below its flood point, or full pond.

“There are probably questions on how we have flooding and drought at the same time,” state climatologist Hope Mizzell said when the drought committee met. “We went from excessive heat to excessive rain in some areas.”

From June 7-13, almost 70 rainfall gauges statewide recorded more than an inch of precipitation. Seven mainly coastal sites had more than 10 inches. A Bluffton site had more than 16 inches.

Drought status

York, Lancaster and Chester are three of eight counties statewide that remain in drought. Another 35 counties saw their drought status improve while three counties are no longer in drought. Tri-county rainfall totals veered toward the low end of recordings statewide.

Fort Lawn (1.34 inches), Lancaster (1.95), Tega Cay (2.79) and Rock Hill (3.25) all fell well below the more severe rainfall toward the middle and lower state.

“The eight-day rainfall totals were highly variable,” Mizzell said. “The rainfall variability within Charleston County alone ranged from 3.23 inches to 10.35 inches.”

Less precipitation in this area means continued drought status.

“Ten inches is enough to end a drought,” Mizzell said. “Three inches is not.”

So far drought hasn’t reached a stage of mandatory water restrictions in this area, although Lake Wylie customers are on new outdoor watering schedules and Tega Cay asked its residents for voluntary conservation.

The state drought group meets again in July to update conditions.

More rain

In this area, the problem was heavy rainfall upstream near the headwaters of the Catawba River. Lake James topped its full pond for seven straight days, at one point by more than 2 feet.

Lake Rhodhiss, Lookout Shoals Lake and Mountain Island Lake all topped their flood point in that same time, as did Cedar Creek and Lake Wateree downstream of Lake Wylie. Lake Norman and others came within a breath of their full pond levels.

River access points were closed throughout the area, and even a restaurant closing when The Pump House in Rock Hill had its parking lot submerged June 10, because of the river flow. The restaurant reopened a day later.



Heavy river flow also caused entire docks, a gazebo, railings and other material to flow through the main channel of Lake Wylie. Small islands of limbs and leaves formed.

“Generally, debris is passed downstream over the dam spillway,” said Kim Crawford, spokesperson for Duke Energy. “Our hydro stations have trash racks to prevent debris from damaging our generating turbines. When debris restricts water flow to the turbines, we will clear it from the racks to allow it to pass downstream.”

As of noon Monday, all 11 Catawba River reservoirs including Lake Wylie sat within 1.5 feet of their full ponds. Seven of them, including Wylie, were within one foot. Duke Energy, the company managing lakes along the river, doesn’t currently have any lake message or warnings related to high water.

Rivers are returning to more normal conditions after spikes last week. Five river monitoring stations straddle the Lancaster County borders with York and Chester counties.

A Sugar Creek site in Fort Mill peaked June 13 at more than 8 feet above where it is now. A site above Catawba is more than 12 feet lower now than on June 10, when it came within 2 feet of a high water record. Three stations in and just below the Fishing Creek area are down after rising within inches, almost a foot and more than 2 feet above their full elevations last week.

Eight other York County stations showed varying levels of high water last week receding into this week, led by a Catawba River site above Rock Hill spiking at more than 6 feet above its full point and within 5 feet of a new high water record on June 10.

However, more rain may be coming. The National Weather Service gives Rock Hill a 30% chance of rain Monday night with scattered showers and thunderstorms possible. Tuesday brings a 60% chance of rain, with chances at about 40-60% the next few days.

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