Dry tinderbox conditions in New England raise concern about another drought

Staff reports
Farm Forum

A messy nor'easter wasn't enough to make up for a lack of late-season snow and dry spring weather, which is causing worries of another summer drought in New England, officials say.

People are already being urged to conserve water in parts of western Massachusetts, and New Hampshire officials warned that water shortages may occur since conditions haven’t fully recovered from the drought last summer. Across the region, tinderbox conditions have led to scores of fires.

The signs point to potential trouble.

“Last year we were in a drought. We are kind of headed that way again,” said Margaret Curtis of the National Weather Service.

Most of New England is already experiencing abnormally dry conditions or moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The problem goes back to late winter. March is usually a snowy month but there was only a tenth of an inch in Portland, Maine, and a trace in Concord, New Hampshire, Curtis said. The late-season nor’easter on Friday didn’t produce enough precipitation to make up the difference, Curtis said.

With the snow pack long gone, stream flows are below normal and there are dry conditions in the forests.

In Maine, the number of forest fires is ahead of last year, with 163 fires having destroyed 122 acres, said Jim Britt, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

“There is great concern among forest rangers and firefighters,” Britt said.

In New Hampshire, all of the state's counties are at least half a foot (15 centimeters) below average for rainfall in the past year, and officials are worried about the impact on people's wells.

“We could see many more well failures than we did last year going into the second year of drought unless conditions change,” said Brandon Kernen, who leads the state drinking and groundwater bureau.

Last summer, there were long stretches of dry weather and record high temperatures in parts of New England. Some farmers who didn’t irrigate dealt with dusty fields and lower yields.

Nearly all of New England was in a drought with parts of Maine, New Hampshire, southern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut in “extreme” drought in 2020.

In this Aug. 11, 2016, file photo, Jim Geoghegan, owner of Sunshine Farm in Sherborn, Mass., walks through a withered drought-stricken corn field. A lack of late-season snow and dry spring weather have signaled alarm of a possible drought in New England in 2021.
In this July 12 file photo, river rocks and exposed concrete are visible due to drought conditions as water flows downstream at the Hoosic River in North Adams, Mass.