BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – More than three months after the state officially declared a drought, groundwater levels remain low across the entire state, streamflow conditions are “dreadful” and tropical weather systems that typically shower New England with rainfall this time of year have not materialized.
To counteract the effects of the drought and to “get us even close to normal,” Massachusetts needs as much as a foot of rainfall, a National Weather Service meteorologist told the state’s Drought Management Task Force on Wednesday, and he sees no relief in sight.
“Mother Nature’s not going to give us any help,” Alan Dunham said. “Nothing’s showing that would give us hope for above normal” precipitation.
Massachusetts has been under an official drought declaration since July 1 and more than 98 percent of the state is experiencing a “moderate” drought or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The scope of the drought as reported by the Drought Monitor, which worsened each week since May, has not changed since mid-September.
In the last six days, the Dorchester section of Boston has seen 1.21 inches of rain, matching its total for the month of August, according to data collected by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. Some parts of Massachusetts — principally Cape Cod and the South Coast — got close to three inches of rain in the last week, the National Weather Service said.
But even the cooler fall temperatures and the rain that fell in September was not enough to pull the state out of its dehydrated condition.
“September was not enormously helpful for the commonwealth in terms of the drought conditions. Some things improved a little bit and some things worsened,” Jonathan Yeo from the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Office of Water Resources said. “Overall the state did have below normal rainfall precipitation across the state, mostly between the 50 and 70th percentiles for the different regions, and many of the regions are now into three and six-month deficits, a pretty significant magnitude.”
The task force on Wednesday recommended that Energy and Environment Secretary Matthew Beaton elevate the western region of the state from a drought advisory to a drought watch, and elevate the Connecticut River Valley from a drought watch to a drought warning. The task force suggested that Beaton keep the other regions in the same category they are in currently.
If Beaton accepts the task force’s recommendations, the drought classifications would be:
- Western Mass. — Drought Watch
- CT River Valley — Drought Warning
- Central Mass. — Drought Warning
- Northeast Mass. — Drought Warning
- Southeastern Mass. — Drought Warning
- Cape Cod and the Islands — Drought Watch
With each heightened classification, the state ramps up its messaging around water conservation, a stronger push for water use restrictions, and more intensified monitoring. Regions under a drought warning should ban all outdoor water use and those under a drought watch should limit outdoor water use to handheld watering after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m., according to the task force.
To get back to the “normal” range on an index used to evaluate drought, Massachusetts would need between 9 and 12 inches of rainfall. That rainfall, though, is not in the forecast, Dunham said.
The forecast for the next seven days calls for just one tenth of an inch of rain, Dunham said. Though environmentalists had been hoping Hurricane Matthew would bring the much-needed rain to Massachusetts, Dunham said the storm now does not appear likely to bring relief.
“Bearer of bad news, don’t shoot the messenger . . . it’s not coming,” he said. “I don’t have a good feel for where it’s going to go … but it’s not coming up to do us any good, at least not this weekend.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor is scheduled Thursday morning to issue its latest update on drought conditions in Massachusetts. For the last two weeks, the Monitor has made no changes to its classification of the drought, keeping about 53 percent of the state in the “extreme drought” since mid-September.
Dunham, who said he has seen some preliminary information from the Monitor, said he does not expect any changes to the state’s drought classifications.
“I don’t think there’s been enough yet for them to budge off of that, so I would not anticipate any changes,” he said.