Rain threatens once again, but will it soothe the drought?

Friday August 10, 2012

Government and private weather forecasters agree that Berkshire County has been under some sort of dome or canopy this summer, with severe thunderstorms and sustained rainfalls diverted elsewhere.

Once again, the prospect of a "significant rainfall event," in weather-forecaster lingo, ap peared to be receding late Thursday, based on new guidance from the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.

The weekly U.S. government Drought Monitor issued Thurs day, based on data up to Tuesday morning, still placed western and central Massa chusetts as well as much of upstate New York, in the official "moderate drought" category. Much of the Midwest, South, Plains and Texas are in much more severe straits.

Many area residents are concerned about parched lawns, especially in Pittsfield, Dalton, Hinsdale and Lenox, where the use of automatic sprinklers has been restricted or banned. Brooks and streams continue to flow in a trickle, river levels are far below average, and DPW superintendents in some communities remain concerned about lack of replenishment for reservoirs.

But as National Weather Service meteorologist Luigi Meccariello put it: "Every little amount helps." He said earlier forecasts of a one- to two-inch soaking rainfall have been scaled back, though isolated areas hit by possibly intense thunderstorms from this morning until early Saturday could still see those amounts.

More generally through the county, he predicted, rainfall may total only a quarter to half an inch from a weakening storm organizing over the Great Lakes and set to cross the Northeast region today.

There's a two-in-three chance of rain over the Berkshires, said Meccariello, adding that the pattern of storms missing the county "has been the theme so far this summer."

News Channel 13 meteorologist Paul Caiano, who also forecasts for WAMC North east Public Radio and Tangle wood, has also cited the "strange phenomenon," though he attributes it to the normal hit-and-miss nature of summer weather patterns.

Late Thursday afternoon, Caiano was monitoring severe weather moving through Sar atoga County, N.Y., and New York's Hudson Valley, but once again the Berkshires were escaping another opportunity for rainfall.

At Pittsfield Municipal Air port, only 17.6 inches of rain has fallen this year as of mid-afternoon on Thursday, compared to an average of 26.6 inches. The shortfall eased slightly this month with almost an inch of rain measured following several light to moderate thunderstorms.

According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., the moderate drought is linked to the seventh-warmest July in the region since 1895 and the warmest January through July on record. Nationally, July was the hottest month on record in the lower 48 states.

"Droughts tend to feed and sustain heat waves," according to meteorologist Brett Ander son, of AccuWeather.com. The national dry spell, affecting close to two-thirds of the U.S., is the most widespread since 1956. For many locations, it's the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

"We've had a lot of extremes globally and in the U.S.," Anderson said. "We can't say definitely that climate change is causing it, but it's definitely a suspect. The planet is warming; that's unmistakable. The frequency of extreme heat and drought events is likely to increase."

To reach Clarence Fanto:
or 413-496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


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