Columbia, South Carolina’s Climate

Introduction

Columbia is the capital and second largest city in South Carolina, located in the central part of the state. Columbia has a humid subtropical climate, with hot, humid summers and short, mild winters.

Weather Patterns

Summer

Summers in Columbia are hot and humid, with average high temperatures in July and August around 91°F. Heat index values frequently exceed 100°F during the summer. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, providing some temporary relief from the heat and humidity.

Humidity

The humidity levels in Columbia can be quite high in the summer, with relative humidity often exceeding 60-70%. The combination of heat and humidity creates an oppressive, sticky feeling during Columbia summers. Staying hydrated and seeking air conditioning as much as possible is important during the hotter months.

Winter

Winters are mild in Columbia, with average highs in December-February around 57°F and overnight lows around 35°F. While below freezing temperatures do occur, extended cold snaps are uncommon.

Precipitation

Most of Columbia’s annual precipitation falls during the summer months. However winter precipitation does occur a few times a year, with both rain and occasional light snow or wintry mix events. Accumulating snowfall is not common.

Severe Weather Risks

As part of the Southeast, Columbia does have some risks for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. The main severe weather season is during the spring and early summer.

Thunderstorms

Frequent thunderstorms occur during the summer months. Some can become severe, producing damaging wind gusts and large hail. Flash flooding is also a danger if too much rain falls too quickly.

Tornadoes

While tornadoes are less common in South Carolina compared to states further inland, they do occur and Columbia has risk for occasional tornado formation within severe thunderstorms. Tornadoes are more likely in the spring, but can happen any time of the year.

Seasonal Variations

Spring

Spring (March-May) brings warmer temperatures, with averages highs rising from the mid 60s Fahrenheit in March to around 80F by May. As temperatures warm, spring often sees Columbia’s most active severe weather season.

Pollen

Spring tree pollen is also abundant starting in late March and all the way through May. This causes allergy issues for many Columbia residents every spring.

Fall

Fall (September-November) is mild and drier. High temperatures in the fall average in the upper 70s Fahrenheit during September and then the upper 60s by November. Overnight lows drop to the 40s on average.

Climate Data Averages

Temperatures

  • Summer High: 91F
  • Winter High: 57F
  • Summer Low: 71F
  • Winter Low: 35F

Precipitation

  • Annual Rainfall: 47 inches
  • Rainiest Month: August (5.5 inches)
  • Driest Month: November (3 inches)

Snowfall

  • Annual Snow: 2 inches
  • Snowiest Month: January (1 inch)

Growing Season

Columbia’s growing season is quite long given it’s southern location, averaging 229 freeze-free days per year. This allows for a variety of popular crops to be grown in the area.

Impact on Lifestyle

Hot Summers

The climate of long hot summers impacts Columbia residents by necessitating adjustments like:

  • Seeking air conditioning reprieve as much as possible
  • Modifying clothing, like wearing breathable fabrics
  • Increasing hydration and sun safety efforts
  • Getting exercise either early or late in the day
  • Accepting that outdoor plans may need to accommodate thunderstorm potential

Outdoor Activities

While winters are fairly mild, Columbia residents can still enjoy seasonal outdoor activities a good portion of the year, especially in spring and fall, such as:

  • Taillgating at University of South Carolina football games
  • Visiting farms for apple picking in the fall
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Hiking through Congaree National Park to see the fall foliage colors
  • Birdwatching for migrating species

The long growing season also allows gardening and golf to be enjoyed for much of the year in Columbia as well. Of course in the peak of summer, most seek indoor activities to avoid the heat and humidity!

Historical Climate Events

Columbia has endured some unusual weather events throughout history, including:

1,000 Year Flood of 2015

In October 2015 a major flood caused severe damage throughout Columbia due to record rainfall amounts. Some areas recorded over 20 inches of rain and river levels reached up to 18 feet above flood stage.

Historic Heatwave of 2011

An extreme heat wave in July 2011 brought temperatures over 110F to Columbia, breaking many local records. This led to strains on power grids, school closings, and impacts on public health.

Winter Storm of 1973

The winter storm of early 1973 before Columbia infrastructure was prepared for icy precipitation crippled the city. Roads and bridges iced over and closed down the city for over a week in some places. Many roofs also collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.

Hurricane Hugo in 1989

While the eye stayed slightly north, Columbia experienced high winds up to 69mph and over 10 inches of rain as Hugo passed to the west. Significant tree damage and flooding impacts occurred in the Columbia area.

Future Climate Projections

Studies on climate change predict Columbia will have the following climate alterations by 2100:

  • Temperature Increase: 9-11F
  • Heat Wave Increase: Heatwaves to occur 3-10 times more often
  • Heavy Rain Increase: Heavy rain events 2 times more frequent
  • Drought Increase: Moderate drought periods much more common

Adaptation Needs

Due to these likely changes occurring in Columbia’s climate over this century, some adaptation steps would be beneficial, like:

  • Expanding water conservation efforts
  • Increasing tree canopy and greenery to provide cooling
  • Accommodating more frequent flooding events in infrastructure
  • Expanding climate health monitoring and planning
  • Improving warning systems for extreme heat episodes

Conclusion

Columbia’s humid subtropical climate brings hot, humid summers and mild winters. While precipitation is year-round, the majority arrives during the summer thunderstorm season. Periodic droughts and severe storms can impact Columbia, and climate change may exacerbate some of these patterns in the future.

Understanding historical climate patterns and preparing adaptive measures for projected changes will allow Columbia residents to continue enjoying the many facets of the area for years to come.

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Directions

  • Start out going south on Main Street toward Oak Avenue. Turn right onto Oak Avenue and continue for 2 miles. Take the ramp onto Highway 77 South and drive for 5 miles. Take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. Turn left onto Slash Pine Road and drive west for 3 miles. Turn right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln will be on your left.
  • Begin by heading west on Park Street for 0.6 miles. Turn left onto Elm Boulevard and go straight for 1.1 miles. Turn right onto Highway 77 South and continue for about 8 miles. Use the left 2 lanes to take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. Keep left at the fork and turn left onto Slash Pine Road. In 2.5 miles, turn right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln is on the right side of the street.
  • Start out on Creek View Drive heading south. Drive for 0.9 miles and turn right onto Oak Avenue. Take Oak Avenue across the bridge over the creek and continue west for 1.7 miles. Turn left onto Highway 77 South and stay on it for approximately 7 miles. Take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. At the stop sign, turn left onto Slash Pine Road heading west. After 2.8 miles, make a right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln will be a gray house on your right side.