Most of Massachusetts in 'severe' drought, or worse

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BOSTON >> Nearly a quarter of the state has seen so little rainfall this summer that the arid conditions wreaking havoc on farms, lawns and waterways are now classified as an "extreme drought," the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

The Drought Monitor, a collaboration between federal government agencies and educational institutions, on Thursday morning moved swaths of Plymouth and Bristol counties from the "severe drought" category to the "extreme drought" classification, joining all of Suffolk County, almost all of Essex County, and most of Middlesex and Norfolk counties.

"We're in an unprecedented time when it comes to drought," Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton said on Boston Herald Radio on Thursday. He added, "We're encouraging everyone across the state right now to go into conservation measures."

The "extreme drought" category now encompasses 22.67 percent of the state, the Drought Monitor said.

"Drought conditions worsened in Massachusetts and surrounding areas," the monitor wrote in its summary of drought conditions nationwide. "Due to the recent and longer term lack of precipitation across this area, there were many more degradations and expansions."

Cape Cod was among the expansions, having been added Thursday to the "severe drought" category that now includes 54.7 percent of the state. Nantucket and a sliver of western Berkshire County are the only areas of the state not considered to be in a drought, the Monitor said, but both are experiencing "abnormally dry" conditions.

Boston measured just 1.72 inches of rain in August, more than an inch and a half short of average, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center. The city got just 0.87 inches of rainfall in July, more than 2.5 inches below average.

The dry weather that has prevailed across the region for much of the summer is not expected to give way now that the calendar has flipped to September.

"Although development and intensification of drought becomes less likely as temperatures cool this fall, persistence is favored across the long-term drought areas of the Northeast," the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center wrote in its drought outlook.

The NWS is eyeing the possibility that Tropical Storm Hermine could make its way up the East Coast by Sunday or Monday and bring much-needed rain to Massachusetts, but meteorologists admit "there is still a lot of uncertainty" about that storm.

The state's Drought Management Task Force is scheduled to meet next Thursday — also when the U.S. Drought Monitor is expected to update its classifications — to get updates on conditions around the state and consider changing the state's drought level index for some parts of Massachusetts.

The Quabbin Reservoir, which supplies nearly all of Greater Boston's water, lost 10 billion gallons in August, but at 85.2 percent capacity, it is still within normal operating range, according to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

At a Drought Management Task Force meeting on Aug. 11, MWRA officials said that at its current capacity Quabbin can supply the system's current demand for 4.9 years

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, and an elevated population of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

The Baker administration has encouraged the public to use water-saving techniques — including shortening shower times, sweeping outdoor spaces instead of cleaning them with hoses and limiting watering of lawns — and to be mindful of the dry conditions when using grills or fires outdoors.


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