Drought situation remains unchanged in Massachusetts

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BOSTON >> The drought that's plagued the state since late spring — forcing water use restrictions, damaging crops and contributing to wild fires — is not receding, but it also has not gotten any worse in the last two weeks.

For the second consecutive week, the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday announced no changes to its drought classifications for Massachusetts, keeping 52.13 percent of the state under the "extreme" drought category. Last week was the first time since May that the drought did not expand.

More than 98 percent of the state is experiencing a "moderate" drought or worse, and the remaining bit of the state, near North Adams, is "abnormally dry," according to the Monitor.

"[I]n Massachusetts where the worse drought conditions have persisted the longest, negative impacts continue," the Drought Monitor wrote Thursday. "Farmers are reporting small crop harvests with the season ending sooner than usual. It was also reported that some area farmers are trucking water because their source went dry."

Massachusetts has been under its own official drought declaration since July 1 and the arid conditions have been blamed for contributing to wild fires, an outbreak of gypsy moths, higher rates of ant infestation, smaller than usual apples, loss of crops, a shortage of cattle feed, and an elevated population of mosquitoes able to carry West Nile virus.

This year's drought followed record-setting snowfall in 2015.

On Thursday, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced that small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in agriculture and private nonprofits in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties are eligible for federal Economic Injury Disaster loans of up to $2 million.

Farmers in Barnstable, Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester counties are already eligible for low interest emergency loans from the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, the USDA said. The loans were made available due to substantial crop losses that began with a February deep freeze and continued though the summer marked by severe drought.

As of Monday, Boston had received 29.38 inches of rain this water year, which began Oct. 1, 2015 and runs through September, according to the National Weather Service. That amount would make this the fifth driest water year on record for Boston, the NWS said.

But some relief from the drought may be on the horizon, the Monitor said.

"Droughts in southern New England can be relieved via a tropical system," the Monitor noted.

WBZ-TV meteorologist Eric Fisher this week wrote in a blog post that 2016 is the first time since 1994 that there has not been an Atlantic hurricane between Sept. 3 and 27. But Fisher said a storm is brewing in the Atlantic Basin that could soon become Hurricane Matthew and carry tropical moisture north.

"Perhaps some relief will arrive in the next week or so," the Drought Monitor suggested.


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