Severe drought waning

by Colin A. Young, originally posted on January 7, 2017


BOSTON — The red sash that bisected Massachusetts from Essex County to the Berkshires on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s map for much of 2016 — indicating areas of extreme drought — has receded into a red belt buckle covering the Greater Springfield area.

The Drought Monitor on Thursday reported that just 8.59 percent of the state’s area is still experiencing an extreme drought — down from 36.12 percent last week and the lowest level since early August. That extreme swath covers most of Hampden County, and parts of Hampshire and Berkshire counties.

At the height of the drought, in September, more than 52 percent of the state was in the extreme drought classification.

The parts of Franklin, Worcester, Middlesex and Essex counties that had been categorized as under an extreme drought were this week downgraded to the severe drought category, which now encompasses 60.54 percent of the state. Cape Cod, much of southeastern Massachusetts and the northwest corner of the state — totaling 28.96 percent — are classified as experiencing a “moderate drought.”

“The recent increase in precipitation since early December plus low temperatures and minimal evaporation have slowly increased the soil moisture, including ground water recharge as only 7 of 17 wells in northeastern Massachusetts were still below the 25th percentile,” a National Weather Service meteorologist wrote in a summary of the Monitor’s latest report.

The Boston area received at least 1.3 inches of rain during the week-long period that the Monitor considered before issuing its latest report, according to the National Weather Service. The 0.95 inches of rain that fell in the Boston area on Tuesday and Wednesday will be counted towards next week’s Drought Monitor report.

Martha’s Vineyard is the only part of the state classified as “abnormally dry” and Nantucket is the only region considered to be sufficiently hydrated, according to the Monitor.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton last month declared a “drought advisory” for Cape Cod and the islands, and a “drought warning” for the rest of the state. Regions under a drought warning should eliminate outdoor water use, according to EEA. EEA has also urged residents to reduce indoor water usage, fix any indoor leaks, and conduct water audits to conserve water during the winter.

Also Thursday, the state’s Drought Management Task Force met and recommended that Beaton move northeast Massachusetts into the drought watch category, the least severe of the task force’s four drought categories, and leave the other regions in the same categories as last month.

The recommendations are not final until Beaton makes his declaration, which is expected in the next day or two.


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