The Drought You Never Knew About dry spell continues to spread across Massachusetts.

Each year we keep hearing about how it's going to be the hottest year. This year is already on track to be the new hottest year on record. On top of having such a warm year, Massachusetts is facing its own type of climatological change.

Massachusetts has been in a drought for quite sometime, which has gotten worse throughout the summer with about 75% of the state being in a severe drought. This has affected some companies here in the state, such as farmers or any company that locally depends on Massachusetts agriculture.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a press release this summer, some livestock producers in 11 Massachusetts Counties, which included counties like Middlesex, Plymouth, and Worcester Counties, reached out for assistance to the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) for grazing losses incurred in 2016.

This map from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows moderate to extreme drought conditions for much of Massachusetts.

Despite having a wet October and with some snow already on the ground, the state stills remains in a drought, and it looks to stay that way dependent on the winter outlook.

Senior Service Hydrologist Nicole Belk and Meteorologist Alan Dunham from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Taunton explain how the drought started and what is needed in order for the conditions to improve going into the winter.

“Regarding the forecast for looking to the winter, it doesn’t look like we’re going to see significant drought relief on the horizon, so the drought will likely persist through the winter months.”

According to Belk, the states Drought Management Task Force (DMTF), which is responsible for areas likely to be affected by drought conditions, has issued a drought warning for much of the state with the exception of the Cape and islands. In order to alleviate the drought situation, there would need to be normal to above normal precipitation through the winter and spring months.

The impacts haven't just been for the soil moisture. Ponds, rivers, streams, reservoir levels and ground water have also been impacted and need that extra melt from the winter snow packs in order to improve.

Meteorological Terms Explained

Snow melt or "Recharge"

The process of rain or melted snow that moves under the ground, is called recharge. Factors like ongoing climate change or other natural occurrences can change how much precipitation is received during the winter season and affect the amount of recharge.

La Niña

Following the El Niño–Southern Oscillation pattern, it is associated with cooler than average sea surface temperatures. The overall global climate is interrupted which disrupts normal weather patterns, leading to intense storms in some places and droughts in others.

"Equal Chances"

The probability of the most likely category cannot be determined and the expected likelihoods of Above-, Near- and Below- Normal do not differ from their climatological odds of 33.33 % each. (weather.gov)

Back when Dunham was growing up, he recalls working at the cranberry bogs and how they did dry picking. “Now they use water where they just flow the bogs so the berries actually float on the vines,” Dunham said. “This year they actually had to do a lot of planning. They made it through to season and they had enough water but they had to be very judicious on how they used their water this time.”

“Now they use water where they just flow the bogs so the berries actually float on the vines.”

Dunham mentions how the crops were a little small this year because producers could only afford to irrigate to an extent. "It wasn't a very good growing year, we didn't have the rain when we needed it," Dunham said.

It's not just the agricultural industry that needed water. Golf courses needed water in order to maintain their green grass. There was also an increase in the number of people in towns that don't have municipal water that had to have their wells re-dug because they went dry. Because of the lack of water, especially around the Boston area, some places had to get their water supply from the Quabbin Reservoir

The Quabbin Reservoir is currently in the "below normal" stage. | Photo from the Water Supply and Demand Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

"It finally got below their 'normal level,'" Dunham said. "But they have been calculating that if we keep getting the same type of weather, they're fine for at least another four years."

Everyone in the Greater Boston area was getting water from the Quabbin so they did not have many water restrictions. Cities like Worcester had to buy their water off the MWRA out of Quabbin because their reservoirs were too low, down to dangerous levels in some areas going into November.

Edmund Coletta, Press Secretary for The Department of Environmental Protection - Massachusetts, explains how it is important to conserve water during this drought season.

"We have to make that folks are conserving as much water as possible."

What does this mean for the agricultural community?

Since July 1, Massachusetts has been in a declared drought. Farmers that do not have irrigation systems to water their crops have to find ways of doing it or suffer crop losses.

The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation is one way farmers can reach our for farming related assistance. They handle funding loans and collecting interest and principal payments. Loans can range anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency's state emergency board has submitted a request for disaster declaration for some Massachusetts counties, which would make federal assistance available."

Since Aug. 19, Mass. farmers lost nearly $14 million in crops due to the drought.

To keep track of the drought conditions and for more information:

Credits:

Created with images by RemazteredStudio - "drought summer village" • Hans - "seepage site water pond brook" • NASA Earth Observatory - "La Niña Comes to a Close" • vicki4net - "games die dice"

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