Friday July 13, 2012

While residents and visitors bask in picture-perfect weather day-after-day, gardeners and groundskeepers are grumbling about this summer's prolonged dry spell that could pose severe water-supply problems if it continues much longer.

The weekly drought monitor issued Thursday by government forecasters shows Berk shire County as "abnormally dry, the initial stage of a drought," said Ray O'Keefe, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Albany, N.Y.

He said any late-weekend thunderstorms that may develop would not relieve the unusually dry conditions.

Another possibility of rain next Wednesday "doesn't look like it's enough to put the near-drought to rest," said O'Keefe.

Berkshire County has not seen a significant, soaking rainfall since June 13, when almost one inch was recorded by the government observation station at Pittsfield Municipal Airport. This month, the only measurable rain, less than a quarter-inch, fell on July 4.

With far-below normal snowfall this past winter and a dry spring except for May, the county has seen only 14.2 inches of precipitation so far this year, compared to an average of 24 inches. Since June 1, rainfall has been more than 50 percent below normal.

Pop-up thunderstorms could develop from Saturday night until Tuesday as a typical midsummer high pressure fair-weather system over Bermuda pumps tropical air into the region.


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Any isolated to scattered storms would produce only a quarter- to a half-inch of rain, O'Keefe predicted.

Although no Berkshire County communities have announced any water restrictions, Lenox Public Works Superintendent Jeffrey Vin cent said the water levels are dropping in the town's reservoirs as feeder brooks have slowed their flow.

"If we haven't started getting regular rain by the end of July," he said, "we'll start out with a voluntary request for people to limit watering their lawns."

Along the Housatonic River below October Mountain State Forest in Lee and Lenox, normally tumbling brooks have slowed to a crawl, while a pipe that permanently supplies clear drinking water to passersby is a mere trickle.

Kayakers along the Housa tonic and other area rivers report abnormally low levels.

While outdoor performance sites such as Tanglewood revel in dry weather on performance days -- Monday rainfall is much preferred -- the groundskeepers at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home are deeply concerned.

"Most of us walk around here just counting our blessings for the beautiful day," said Facilities Manager Bobby La hart. But, for the grounds keepers, "it's not so beautiful when we don't get some soaking rain to nourish the lawn and everything you see out there."

"It's much more difficult when we have dry spells like this," Lahart continued. "Our irrigation systems are to supplement what nature provides. And when nature doesn't do its part in terms of nourishing the lawns, supplementing it with irrigation really isn't adequate for extended periods."

Grounds supervisor Bruce Peeples also is limited to narrow windows of opportunity for sprinkling because of the frenetic pace of activity on the campus.

Is there any risk the storied Tanglewood lawn could turn brown?

"We won't let that happen," Lahart said firmly.

For information on drought conditions: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu, updated every Thursday.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.




How dry we are

Rain this month to date: 0.22 inches.

Normal this month to date: 1.58 inches.

Rain since June 1: 2.54 inches.

Normal since June 1: 5.98 inches.

Precipitation this year to date: 14.2 inches.

Normal: 24.3 inches.

Source: National Weather Service Automated Observation Station, Pittsfield Municipal Airport, via accuweather.com.