U.S. Water News Online
PORTLAND, Maine -- On the first day of 2002, New Englanders
found themselves in the midst of a drought. The farther north you go,
the more severe the drought, so that northern Maine is suffering its
worst dry spell since 1965 while Southern New England is merely under
a drought advisory.
The past year got off to a wet start, with greater-than-normal
rainfall through the spring. A dry summer in Northern New England
parched the blueberry crop, and by fall it was dry all over.
November tied an 84-year-old record for Rhode Island's driest in
more than 100 years of record keeping. Merely 0.31 inches of rain
fell at T.F. Green Airport in November, in what is usually one of the
region's wettest months with an average of nearly 4 inches of rain.
"We had an extremely wet spring and since then we've had darned
little," said Mike Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather
Service in Taunton, Mass. "We're not in a severe drought, but unless
we start picking things up and start getting some snow here, we could
have a drought here by spring."
The official National Weather Service definition of a drought is
precipitation levels at least 15 percent below normal over a 12-month
period. In the year just past, Rhode Island fell 13 percent short of
normal levels with 40.14 inches of precipitation, 5.79 inches below
This was enough of a shortfall to qualify as a "mild drought"
under the Palmer drought index used by the weather service.
In Massachusetts, a "drought management task force" has issued a
drought advisory, recommending that people practice water
conservation efforts, and that those on private wells pay close
attention to water levels. Should dry weather continue, the task
force would issue a drought watch, then a drought warning, then an
In Maine, drought has already reached emergency levels.
Precipitation levels across the state are down 35 percent to 45
percent below normal. About 168,000 people are battling with wells
that are dry or almost empty; well drillers are busy drilling through
frozen ground, and livestock farmers are concerned about finding
enough water to keep their animals alive through winter.
There is a possibility of precipitation later this week, though an
approaching snowfall seems more likely to clip southern New England
and Cape Cod than the parched region of the Northeast.
The National Weather Service's Climatological Center, which
forecasts three-month trends, is calling for a colder-than-normal
winter for the region. The center hedged its bets for a long-range
precipitation forecast, calling for "equal chances for above, below,
or normal precipitation" through March.
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