"I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house."

- Nathaniel Hawthorne (The American Notebooks, 1842)

It has been 17 days and counting since the last measurable rainfall in the Berkshires, and those Sept. 10 showers amounted to less than half an inch. But relief is on the horizon, according to the anxious forecasters at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.

Climatologist Ingrid Amberger points out that the NWS observation station at Pittsfield Municipal Airport has recorded only 0.97 inches of rain this month, about 70 percent below the normal amount for September so far. The total for the year remains stuck at 23.73 inches, nearly 30 percent below average.

The U.S. Drought Monitor's latest report still places most of Berkshire County in the "abnormally dry" category, though the southeastern hill towns remain in a more significant "moderate drought."

"Stream flow in many areas of the Northeast is very low for this time of year," wrote Brad Rippey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Thursday's monitor update. "Some of the areas hardest hit by drought are reporting wells going dry."

Water-consumption restrictions remain for Pittsfield, Lenox, Williamstown, Adams, Dalton and Hinsdale, among other locales.

Much of Massachusetts and the rest of New England are suffering from a moderate to severe drought. Nearly half of the state's 351 cities and towns have imposed mandatory or recommended water conservation measures.

An "exceptional drought" is affecting Rhode Island, southeastern Massachusetts, coastal Maine from Portland south, and adjacent New Hampshire, the USDA reported.

For us, "much-needed rain is on the way," Amberger predicted, thanks to the leading edge of colder air and a related wet weather system passing through the Berkshires Tuesday night into Wednesday. A soaking rainfall of an inch to an inch and a half is expected, per the government forecast, while AccuWeather sees nearly two inches as the grand total for the week ahead.

The unseasonably warm and sticky air mass hovering over us will give way to more seasonable temperatures for late September, starting Tuesday, with partly cloudy skies on Friday and Saturday and a slight chance of lingering showers.

The best odds for showers since Labor Day weekend are predicted as a 30 percent chance on Monday, 60 percent on Tuesday, then rising to 70 percent Tuesday night and Wednesday, before dropping back to a 60 percent likelihood Wednesday night and 40 percent on Thursday.

Peak fall foliage for the Berkshires is approaching slightly faster than first predicted, with prime viewing now targeted from Oct. 4 to Oct. 15, including Columbus Day weekend (Oct. 9-12), according to Yankee Magazine's interactive map.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center's outlook for the first 10 days of October places western New England in a cooler than normal pattern, with average rainfall.

Nationally, elevated to critical fire weather conditions are affecting much of the West and the Plains states. Another hot spell is in store for California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest, with some record-breaking highs possible over parts of California.

The Outlook is today's look ahead at the week's weather, its impact on the Berkshires and beyond. Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.