Persistent drought — no change in sight for next two to three months

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BRATTLEBORO — A drought is taking place in parts of New England, including Brattleboro and surrounding areas. Currently, and increasingly in the near future, this could threaten the local water supply, agriculture, water-recreation activities and ecosystems. Obviously, water shortage issues have no good implications for a community.

Dale Mohler, Senior Expert Meteorologist at AccuWeather.com, said that the drought – which began in the fall, endured a relatively snowless winter and then continued into spring and summer – was caused by "a persistent westerly flow." He explained that "the storm track has split with one storm track to the north (over Ontario) and a second farther south, over the lower mid-Atlantic region. The southern storm track has kept Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic moisture from flowing north into New England. The northern storm path has kept moisture from any western storms off to our north.

"In between, the region has been left high and dry, so to speak," said Mohler. "Surface high pressure has been stronger than normal most of the past six to seven months, further blocking low level moisture in the form of clouds and precipitation from moving into New England. Rain and melted snowfall since Jan. 1st has been around 16 inches. Normal is 23 inches. So we are seven inches less than normal."

Mohler said another way to look at this is the region has been averaging about one inch less than normal precipitation since the beginning of the year.

"As a result, water tables are lowering, streams and rivers are flowing at unusually low levels and lawns, gardens and crops are being stressed."

When asked about the effects of the low snowfall through the winter, Mohler said, "Winter snow melt helps recharge soil moisture so with below normal snowfall, we came out of the spring at a soil moisture deficit. Below normal rainfall both this past spring and now this past summer has further depleted soil moisture levels."

Mohler said he doesn't anticipate any changes in the weather system for the next two to three months.

"However, there are signs of a change in the storm track later this fall," he said. "The result may finally bring an increase in precipitation to New England later in November or December of this year. The greatest impacts will be on the water sources in the region. Springs and shallow wells will be drying up, forcing some rural residents to purchase drinking water. The lack of consistent rainfall will also take its toll on agriculture, stunting crops and gardens. We need water to live, so its scarcity will impact all of us across New England in the weeks ahead."

Indeed, water shortage and/or lack of growth in the water supply causes a slough of problems, from drinking water and agriculture to water-recreation. according to Neil Kamman, program manager at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Though he had not firsthand seen or yet felt the effects of the drought, being based further north in the state, he said rainfall and water levels have in fact been low but "not historically so," and indeed, many questions about the drought and its level of damage will be answered in due time, by the weather.

Kamman did note that "People boating and other water recreationalists should be aware of low water levels." Snags, debris, and other factors can be a threat in low water.

Steve Morse, a dairy farmer from Whitingham, said that his hay crop has been down due to the drought, but not drastically, and that the drought has mostly enabled him and his family to, "enjoy the warm weather." They grow and sell hay and Morse noted that while the drought may cut into their hay sales, they have not had a shortage of hay for themselves and their own farm.

Mohler, upon further inquiry about the causes and effects of the drought, said there is not much of a relation to climate change.

"This is not a historic drought, at least not so far," he said, adding that this drought probably comes approximately every 25 years.

Mohler spoke about the impact on local ecosystems.

"As far as local animals," he said, "fish may be running out of good healthy waters to swim in the local streams and rivers. It may be harder for deer to find good food, as the local corn fields have been stunted by heat and dryness. Cattle do not like a lot of heat. Feeder cattle and pigs do not tend to eat as much when the weather is hot. Lower water-levels in streams typically means warmer waters. Trout like cooler waters to swim in so I am sure that trout in smaller streams are being adversely impacted. Horses need extra water to drink during heat waves and droughts and pets need to be carefully attended to when it's hot."

He warned residents about leaving pets and children in the car with the windows up.

Matt Vernon Whalen can be contacted at matthewwhalan11@gmail.com.


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