The prolonged spell of dry, sunny and mild weather has delighted most Berkshirites, but gardeners, farmers and public works officials are voicing concern over the abnormally dry conditions that have sent rivers below normal levels, reduced creeks to a trickle, and deprived plants, trees, and flowers of ideal moisture levels.
According to the government's weekly U.S. drought monitor report (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu), western New England is in an official "abnormal dry" spell, which can lead to a moderate drought if it continues.
At Pittsfield Municipal Airport, just under 8 inches of precipitation (including melted snow) have been measured since Jan. 1, which is approximately 30 percent below average. Only 0.17 inches of rain has been recorded since April 25, with the last significant rainfall on April 17 and 18. April's precipitation ended well below normal, as did February and March.
But the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., sees some relief on the way -- at least a 50 to 60 percent chance of showers from Wednesday into Thursday, which could yield a quarter-inch or more. That's not enough to moisten the parched landscape significantly, but another chance of showers on Saturday could help.
A low-pressure wet weather system that meandered through the Midwest over the weekend will be off the Carolinas by Tuesday night before wandering up the coast along the I-95 corridor, according to forecaster Brian Montgomery in the Albany office. Showers are likely in the Berkshires by Wednesday afternoon, with above-normal daytime highs continuing.
"The system will weaken," according to his long-term forecast, "but it looks as if we could get a quarter to a half inch of rainfall."
AccuWeather.com predicts two-thirds of an inch by week's end.
Next weekend, including Mother's Day on Sunday, will be chilly, with mostly cloudy skies and a chance of more showers.
AccuWeather's summer outlook calls for abundant sunshine with only occasional thunderstorms in June and the first half of July. That six-week period shapes up as the warmest, driest portion of the summer -- good news for summer recreation enthusiasts and for outdoor performance venues such as Tanglewood.
According to long-range forecast supervisor Paul Pastelok, "This will not finish as a top-10 summer for heat in the Northeast, but there can be a few episodes of heat." For the three months from June 1 to Sept. 1, slightly above-normal temperatures are expected for western New England.
The second half of the summer is likely to yield more showers and thunderstorms, Pastelok noted, along with the possibility of one or more tropical systems.
In the end, temperatures are expected to average only slightly above normal for the three-month period spanning June, July and August.
Despite the current dry spell, farms statewide are doing well, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Gregory C. Watson told the Worcester Telegram. But he cautioned that a few more weeks of below-normal moisture would change his upbeat report.
In Taunton, near Boston, National Weather Service forecaster Charles Foley explained that a strong fair-weather high pressure system has been parked over New England since late March, keeping wet weather at bay.