Photos of the drought in the northeast appear to have been taken in the desert southwest. Major rivers in the region have fallen to the lowest level in local memory, with certain tributaries of the Charles River in the Boston area drying up completely as locals find themselves able to walk on normally fast-moving rivers.
Southwest drought is most extreme in 1,200 years, study shows
“We walk on the river. We could walk over it with the right boots,” Boston photographer Fran Gardino told CBS News. “When you come here normally, the river flows down here quickly. It’s so strong you can’t stand here.”
Extreme drought is plaguing 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 rating system, only one level is worse.
No part of Massachusetts or Rhode Island is free from drought. Extreme drought, which can lead to extreme reductions in river flow and widespread crop loss, has overtaken 24.5 percent of Massachusetts and 33.63 percent of Rhode Island, according to the Drought Monitor.
Boston recorded its fourth driest July on record, with just 0.62 inches of rain recorded compared to July’s average rainfall total of 3.27 inches.
In Providence, RI, only 0.46 inches of rain fell in July, well below the normal level of 2.91 inches. On Aug. 9, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee (D) issued a statewide drought advisory advising local residents to prepare for extended periods of dry weather.
“As a precautionary measure, I encourage residents and businesses to consider taking water-saving measures,” McKee said in a press release.
Numerous Massachusetts municipalities have imposed mandatory water restrictions, limiting the number of days per week on which water can be given.
The drought isn’t just localized to Massachusetts and Rhode Island — it’s the entire region. Parts of New Jersey, New York City, and areas all the way to the coast of Maine are experiencing at least moderate drought. Drought conditions are also expanding further northeast, in all of New Hampshire, almost all of Vermont, and as far west as areas along Lake Ontario in New York.
Some rain is expected in the region on Thursday and Friday, but exactly how much is unclear, with the two most reliable weather models giving divergent guidance.
The last few runs of the U.S. (GFS) model have turned toward a rainier solution, with up to 2.5 inches of rain falling over rain-depleted parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It also has some much-needed precipitation reaching as far inland as New Hampshire and Vermont.
However, the European model remains less generous, limiting significant rainfall much closer to the coast and generally north of Massachusetts.
Any rain falling in the region would certainly be welcome, even if the GFS leans toward a drier, European-style solution. If a wetter, GFS-like solution emerges, it won’t be enough to help most of the region escape drought.
“I think we’re probably going to be on this for a while and it’s going to take a lot,” Ted Diers, an assistant director of the water division at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, told the Associated Press. “What we’re really hoping for is a wet fall followed by a very snowy winter to really recharge the aquifers and groundwater.”
Vermont farmer Brian Kemp told the AP that the drought has made it more difficult for his large herd of cattle to find enough food to graze on.
“Agriculture is a challenge,” Kemp said, “and it becomes even more challenging as climate change takes place.”
Dairy farms in Vermont are a $2 billion-a-year industry, and the region’s drought has caused both yields and hay quality to be low this year, making life difficult for farmers who need hay to feed their livestock. .
Rhode Island farmer Milan Adams told the AP that many of his fields are covered in a layer of dry powdery soil, which makes for heavy haymaking.
“The height of the hay was there, but there was no volume. From there we got a little bit of rain in early May which turned it upside down,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything since then.”