Drought in Northeast U.S. likely to per­sist through Fe­bru­ary

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Michael Casey The As­so­ci­ated Press

The lon­grun­ning drought in much of the North­east­ern United States is ex­pected to per­sist through the win­ter.

The U.S. Drought Mon­i­tor map re­leased Thurs­day shows dry con­di­tions con­tin­u­ing through Fe­bru­ary through­out New Eng­land and the only relief com­ing in parts of up­state New York, where some drought­stricken ar­eas could see im­prov­ing con­di­tions.

The drought is the worst in more than a decade. It has been dev­as­tat­ing to farm­ers and re­sulted in wa­ter re­stric­tions in many places. It has dried up drink­ing wells and caused lake lev­els to drop.

Drought also is ex­pected to per­sist in much of the South­east, the Southwest as well as parts of the Mid­west and Cal­i­for­nia.

Win­ter out­look

Drought ex­pert Dave Miskus said it will be dif­fi­cult for the Northeast to make up the 8- to 12-inch deficit in rain through­out the win­ter. There have been some good storms lately, but the win­ter fore­cast re­mains un­clear on whether there will be more or less pre­cip­i­ta­tion in the next three months, said Miskus, who works for the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In the short-term, sev­eral storms fore­cast for the end of the month could im­prove con­di­tions along the coast. Far­ther west, re­cent rains and above av­er­age win­ter pre­cip­i­ta­tion ex­pected for the Great Lakes re­gion and Ohio Val­ley should spell relief for drought-hit sec­tions of west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia and New York.

What to watch for

The sim­ple an­swer is more rain. But Miskus and other weather experts are hop­ing there will be a pro­longed stretch of pre­cip­i­ta­tion rather than sev­eral big storms. That way, the wa­ter can soak into the soil and recharge aquifers rather than run­ning off.

A sec­ond fac­tor will be snow. While it re­mains un­clear how much snow New Eng­land will get, New Hamp­shire’s cli­ma­tol­o­gist, Mary Lem­cke-Stam­pone, said a snow­pack of sev­eral feet in the spring would give the re­gion a head start as it warms up.

But not all snow is equal. Wet snow, which falls in warmer con­di­tions, would be prefer­able to dry flakes that fall in frigid con­di­tions. Wet snow con­tains more pre­cip­i­ta­tion. It also would help if there aren’t heavy rains in the spring that would wash away all that snow in­stead of al­low­ing it to slowly seep into the ground.

La Nina

La Nina, which is the op­po­site of El Nino, is the pe­ri­odic cool­ing of the cen­tral Pa­cific Ocean that af­fects weather pat­terns around the globe. It usu­ally brings wet­ter win­ters to north­ern Rock­ies, Pa­cific North­west and Ohio Val­ley and warmer, drier con­di­tions to south­ern parts of the U.S.

It should ex­as­per­ate drought in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the South­east and south­ern Plains. But it shouldn’t have an im­pact for most of New Eng­land, es­pe­cially on help­ing or ex­as­per­at­ing drought con­di­tions. That said, Miskus said La Nina often causes a stronger po­lar jet stream from Canada, which could mean more storms for west­ern parts of New Eng­land.

What it means

With drought con­di­tions last­ing through the win­ter, many towns prob­a­bly will keep ex­ist­ing wa­ter re­stric­tions in place.

Res­i­dents will be en­cour­aged to con­serve wa­ter. Many peo­ple hit hard­est by the drought will con­tinue to suf­fer. Pri­vate well own­ers, whose wells have gone dry, aren’t likely to get relief soon. Farm­ers, whose crops shriv­eled amid the dry con­di­tions, could face chal­lenges en­sur­ing their live­stock get enough wa­ter.

Ski re­sorts also could face chal­lenges en­sur­ing they have enough wa­ter for snow­mak­ing. Reser­voirs for stor­ing wa­ter are full now, but they will need more pre­cip­i­ta­tion through­out the win­ter.

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