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15-21 August 2001

Installment #87--Visitor #AmazingCounters.com

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Drought at Hilton Pond

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center


Although we've had more rain this summer at Hilton Pond Center than in 2000, August has been very dry, with less than 0.2" of precipitation in the first three weeks of the month. Sweetgum trees are dropping leaves that litter the trails (below right), Virginia Creeper vines are wilting and turning red, and the surface of Hilton Pond itself is two feet below where it was in late spring. This is great for riparian grasses that flourish in the exposed mud along the edge (top photo), but every year there's an extended drought the pond gets a bit smaller and a bit further along the way toward becoming a bog.

Drought at Hilton PondThe really frustrating part about our drought is that areas within spitting distance of Hilton Pond Center have had downpours in the past month. Parts of Rock Hill-- just 10 miles or so to the east--received nearly an inch of precipitation on two occasions in August, most recently on the 17th. That day, when rain clouds developed near Greenville at about 7 p.m., we watched The Weather Channel with glee, knowing that prevailing winds were likely to bring the storm system in our direction (see maps below). Over the next hour the precipitation moved swiftly toward York, and at 7:56 p.m. we saw a dark cloud menacing the near horizon. We could even smell the rain--a sure sign we were about to get drenched. It was with great disappointment that we watched the cloud shift abruptly to the north and--as the 8:10 p.m. map shows--hook around York without passing over. By 8:26 p.m. the rain clouds re-formed to the east of us, eventually soaking Rock Hill without leaving a drop at Hilton Pond Center.

Hilton Pond weather map 2001
6:52 p.m.

Hilton Pond weather map 2001
7:05 p.m.

Hilton Pond weather map 2001
7:28 p.m.

Hilton Pond weather map 2001
7:43 p.m.

Hilton Pond weather map 2001
7:56 p.m.

Hilton Pond weather map 2001
8:10 p.m.

Hilton Pond weather map 2001
8:26 p.m.
These weather maps, courtesy The Weather Channel, cover a 94-minute span on 17 August 2001. York SC is marked by the red circle. As often happens, stormy weather developed to the west of York and somehow completely missed the city--and Hilton Pond Center--despite dropping nearly an inch of rain at several nearby locations within York County.

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

This may seem like an improbable weather event, but it happens over and over at Hilton Pond--especially in summer when we need rain the most; if you don't believe it, spend some time watching The Weather Channel. Even Roddey Connolly, the esteemed mayor of York, agrees with our belief that weather maps often show summer rain blanketing the Carolinas--all except for a little patch of dry sky smack over the City of York. He and others have been at a loss to explain this meteorological peculiarity, but after pondering the matter and poring over the maps, we at Hilton Pond Center think we have it figured out. It has to be what we call the "King's Pinnacle Effect."

King's Pinnacle is part of an ancient mountain range, the vestiges of which lie just south of Interstate 85. Hilton Pond weather map 2001(In the weather map at left, I-85 is the highway that connects Greenville and Charlotte.) The mountain range starts with Whitaker Mountain at Blacksburg SC--close to where I-85 crosses the North Carolina/South Carolina border, which is represented by the thick black line on the map. Following the range in a northeasterly direction, the next peak is King's Mountain (photo at below right), then King's Pinnacle, and finally Crowder's Mountain just west of Charlotte. (There's also a curious monadnock called Henry's Knob several miles east of the main ridge.)King's Mountain This whole string of mountains isn't all that significant on a topographic map--the highest point is only about 300 feet above surrounding terrain--but the mountains are still noticeable as you drive up I-85.

And that's what gives rise to our speculation about York County weather patterns. We're beginning to believe there's something mysterious about this mountain ridge that affects microclimate. Perhaps northwesterly winds blowing against the ridge cause a moderate rain shadow on the York side. Or maybe fronts from the southwest get split in two and cause just enough turbulence to push summer rain clouds away from York. Or it might be something even screwier, such as a dense lode of magnetic iron-rich rock at the center of one of the mountains. In support of this hypothesis, we know several folks with normally infallible senses of direction who have gotten hopelessly lost climbing the ridge, perhaps because their internal compasses were thrown out of whack by what we're calling the "King's Pinnacle Effect."

Drought at Hilton PondThere's probably a dissertation here for a person working on a doctoral degree in meteorology, or it may even be fodder for a major symposium of weather experts. Seriously speaking, though, there are many things about microclimate factors that scientists don't understand and that are worth further study. All we know for sure is that we're ready for the local drought to be over, and for two dozen inches of rain to fall on Hilton Pond (above right) before it dries up any further. After all, we're just not ready to change our name to Hilton Bog Center.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, plus other nature notes of interest.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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House Finch (juvenile male)
By August, young males begin replacing natal plumage with red; brown birds are not reliably sexed as females until October.

The following species were banded this week (15-21 August):

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--9*
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher--2*
American Redstart--1
Northern Cardinal--1*
Eastern Towhee--1*
House Finch--6*

* = Includes at least one Recent Fledgling

(15-21 August 2001)
6 species
20 individuals

64 species
924 individuals
(since 28 June 1982)
122 species
39,207 individuals

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (4)

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.