N.H. Mired In Drought, But Rain Is On The Way

May 29, 2015

the 28-day average USGS stream flow levels - note New England where bright red = lowest on record, dark red = lower 10th percentile (much below normal), orange = 10-24th percentile (below normal).
Credit USGS

As you may have noticed, it’s been unusually dry here in the Granite State for the past few months.

Thunderstorms Thursday afternoon provided some much-needed rain, but federal officials recently classified most of central and southern New Hampshire as being in a moderate drought.

David Miskus specializes in drought monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He joined Morning Edition to talk about what this all means.

It's been dry here in N.H., but are we talking historically dry?

No. I was looking back here to when the U.S. drought monitor first started back in 2000. I had to back to spring of 2002 to find a widespread, pretty severe drought in New England. That disappeared by the summer. Droughts in New England are usually not, at least lately, have not been that severe and haven’t lasted that long. I went back in time to see the last time a real severe drought was in New England. Before 2002, you have to go back to the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. Really since the late 1960s, there haven’t been very many droughts in New England at all.

It’s certainly relative when we look out west, that’s for sure.

Yes, California has had it for four years. The nice thing about New England is that every months, precipitation is about the same. You don’t have like six months of dry weather and six months of heavy rain like California does. If you don’t get that precipitation during those six wet months, it carries on for the whole year.

The Northeast region has been way below its average precipitation for months, but it was only recently that it was officially classified as a drought. Why is that?

The winter was pretty cold, of course, and snowy. The spring snow melt was also kind of cool, so it did go into the ground quite well. And then probably about the last three or four months, it’s been very dry. But since it’s been cool and you had a pretty snowy winter, you didn’t really see any kind of impacts. The vegetation was kind of behind schedule. But now that temperatures are starting to warm up and it’s been dry for three months, you’re really seeing it in the stream flows. They’re at near-record low levels right now for this time of the year.

What are the implications long-term for that?

Like I said, every month you get pretty much the same precipitation in New England. It looks like in the short-term and medium-term, precipitation is going to be coming back to New England. That should hopefully help ease and maybe even end the drought here as we head into the summer months.

Brush fires have been popping up across the state. And this week, we saw some New Hampshire communities, including Portsmouth and Newmarket, ask residents to conserve water. What other kinds of the implications could we see?

Well, fortunately your reservoirs are in good shape. It’s mainly stream flows and maybe some wild fires. You may also see some summer crops impacted in the area. But it looks like the next couple days, moisture is coming into New England and the east coast overall. Hopefully that will take care of the wild fire threat.