Northeast struggling with persistent drought conditions

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Persistent dry conditions in the Northeast have plunged the most populous region of the United States into the midst of intense drought – and it is not yet clear if relief is on the horizon.

A coastal storm is likely to sweep off the northeast coast later this week, but models have wavered on how much precipitation will hit the region, much to the chagrin of farmers and forest managers.

The photos of the drought in the northeast look like they were taken in the desert southwest. Major rivers in the area have dropped to their lowest levels in local memory, with some tributaries of the Boston-area Charles River drying up completely as residents find themselves able to cross normally fast-flowing rivers.

Southwest drought most extreme in 1,200 years, study finds

“We are walking on the river. We could walk through it with the right boots,” Boston-area photographer Fran Gardino told CBS News. “If you come here normally, the river flows fast here. It’s so loud you couldn’t stay here.

Extreme drought is affecting much of eastern Massachusetts, including Boston, as well as parts of southern and eastern Rhode Island. According to the Federal US Drought Monitor’s drought classification system, there is only one level worse.

Not a single part of Massachusetts or Rhode Island is drought-free. Extreme drought, which the Drought Monitor says can lead to extreme reductions in river flow as well as widespread crop losses, topped 24.5% in Massachusetts and 33.63% in Rhode Island.

Boston was the fourth driest July on record last month, with just 0.62 inches of rain recorded compared to its average July rainfall total of 3.27 inches.

In Providence, RI, just 0.46 inches of rain was recorded in July, well below the normal 2.91 inches. On Aug. 9, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee (D) issued a statewide drought advisory recommending local residents prepare for an extended period of dry weather.

“As a precaution, I encourage residents and businesses to consider taking water conservation measures,” McKee said in a press release.

Many municipalities in Massachusetts have instituted mandatory water restrictions, limiting the number of days per week that watering is allowed.

The drought isn’t localized to Massachusetts and Rhode Island – it’s region-wide. Parts of New Jersey, New York City, and areas along the Maine coast are experiencing at least moderate drought. Drought conditions also extend farther into the northeast interior, throughout New Hampshire, most of Vermont, and as far west as areas along Lake Ontario in New York.

Precipitation is expected in the region on Thursday and Friday, although the exact amount is unclear, with the two most reliable weather models providing divergent guidance.

The latest runs of the US Model (GFS) have tended to revert to a more rainy solution, with up to 2.5 inches of rain predicted in areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island that need rain. It also has much needed precipitation reaching inland to New Hampshire and Vermont.

The European model, however, remains less generous, limiting significant rainfall much closer to the coast and generally to northern Massachusetts.

Any rain that falls in the area would certainly be welcome, even if the GFS tends towards a drier, European-style solution. If a wetter, GFS-like solution occurs, it will not be enough to allow most of the region to escape the drought.

“I think we’re probably going to be in this for a while, and it’s going to take a long time,” Ted Diers, deputy director of the water division of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, told Reuters. ‘Associated Press. “What we’re really hoping for is a wet fall followed by a very snowy winter to really recharge aquifers and groundwater aquifers.”

Vermont farmer Brian Kemp told the AP that drought conditions made it harder for his large herd of cattle to find enough pasture.

“Farming is a challenge,” Kemp said, “and it’s getting even harder as climate change happens.”

Dairy farms in Vermont are a $2 billion-a-year industry, and drought in the region means both yield and quality of hay this year are low, making life difficult for farmers who need hay to feed their cattle.

Rhode Island farmer Milan Adams told the AP that many of his fields are covered in a layer of dry powdery soil, which makes growing hay difficult.

“The height of the hay was there, but there was no volume. From there we had a bit of rain in early May which kind of ratcheted up the pressure,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything since.”

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