Nov/Dec 2013Earth and Water, Wind and Sun
Change in the Weatherby David Lucas

The summer of 2013 brought heavy rainfall across South Carolina, but how did those almost daily rainstorms stack up against historical averages and extreme weather events from years past? Knowing the answer to questions like that is the business of the State Climatology Office, the LW&C section tasked with monitoring and recording such information. According to their records, for many South Carolinians, it was the wettest summer in their lifetimes. The statewide average precipitation total of 26.26 inches resulted in the wettest summer on record since 1895. For many recording stations, like Walhalla, Walterboro and Florence, 2013 is on track to be the wettest year in their recorded history.

For South Carolina citizens, access to historical data about the state's climate is just a mouse-click or a phone call away. Official records for the state date back to the 1800s, and the Climatology Office provides a unique service by archiving and distributing climatological data to state agencies, educational and research institutions and citizens. South Carolina's State Climatologist is Hope Mizzell.

"Our number one mission is service," says Mizzell. "People can call us to find out information about any weather event, past, present or future, across the state. "Whether they are a student working on a project, a lawyer or insurance company trying to document weather conditions on a certain day, a highway patrol officer documenting weather conditions contributing to a traffic incident, we will do our best to provide the information they need," adds Wes Tyler, South Carolina's Assistant State Climatologist for Service.

"When I first became the State Climatologist in 2003, I would ask at every speaking engagement how many people knew the state had a Climatology Office," says Mizzell with a smile. "Generally, only a few would raise their hands, but it's getting better. We want everyone to know that their State Climatology Office is the focal point for weather and climate information."

Media inquiries are a part of the regular routine for section staff. On the day of this interview, with official rain totals for the month of July being compiled, Climatology staff had already responded to questions from reporters at the daily newspapers in Columbia, Charleston and Greenville. Other "customers" who rely on the information available through the Climatology Office include farmers, law enforcement officials, insurance companies, the court system and other government agencies. Often, what these folks are seeking goes well beyond what's available on the nightly newscast.

"What does a 'thirty percent chance of rain on Thursday' really mean for a farmer getting ready to cut hay? We can put that information into context for them," says Mizzell.

The State Climatology Office is also the principal advisor to state agencies before the outbreak of severe weather. "Tropical storms and winter weather outbreaks affect the state tremendously and require pre-planning and coordination amongst multiple agencies," says Mark Malsick, the Climatology Office's severe weather liaison. "Based upon National Weather Service data and forecasts, our office provides on-scene advice and recommendations to the state Emergency Management Division for response actions ranging from when and where to salt the roads before it snows, to when to evacuate the coast ahead of a hurricane."

Timely and accurate weather data and the tailored interpretation of complex forecasts are critical for law enforcement and emergency management agencies trying to allocate resources where they will do the most good, and providing it is all in a day's work for the State Climatology Office.


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