Monday, September 12, 2016

Four Ways New England Could Get Out Of Its Wicked Drought

A pond belonging to one of my gardening
clients in Vermont shows the effects of this year's drought. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor's latest report issued today, September 15, 2016 shows worsening drought in much of New England.

The area of extreme drought in southeastern New England has expanded to cover most of eastern and central Massachusetts, southeastern New Hampshire and the southern tip of Maine.

Extreme drought covers a good chunk of western New York, too.

Here in Vermont, things got worse, too. Moderate drought now covers much of western and central parts of the Green Mountain State.

It might rain some this weekend, but the way it looks now,  it's not going to be that big of a drencher at all.


In case you haven't noticed, it's terribly dry across New England and other parts of the Northeast.

If you like dust, New England is now strangely the place to be.

Pretty much the whole area is in drought, or at least close to it. Parts of southern and eastern New England are in extreme drought.

Thunderstorms yesterday brought a little brief rain. Another cold front due Wednesday should bring just a bit more. And a new system Sunday might help a little too.

But all these weather systems are focusing their mediocre rains on northern New England, where the drought isn't quite as bad.  Not as much fell, or is expected to fall, on more serious drought zones in southern New England and New York's southern tier.

But hope springs eternal. Autumn is arriving, and with the change of seasons, we get a change in weather patterns. The drought could drag on through the winter, but some seasonal weather arrangements in the fall and early winter could put a dent in the drought or even erase it.

Here's some things we hope will happen:


No, I'm not advocating the destruction of New England in a series of hurricanes. We don't need massive storm surges or destructive winds. We have enough problems.

But it would be nice if weaker tropical systems came by, or the remnants of hurricanes from somewhere else crossed New England.

Or at least, we could get a hurricane or two passing northward harmlessly offshore, but in the process making a cold front stall over us with the hurricane throwing  rain-making moisture into it. Hey, a boy can dream, right?

We're at the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, and there will be the possibility of tropical systems at least through October.  We can always hope.


The more we get into autumn and toward winter, the more likely we might get nor'easters. Nor'easters are those strong, windy, rainy or snowy storms that head toward the northeast along the New England and southeastern Canadian coasts.

To set up a nor'easter, you need a deep dip in the jet stream centered over the eastern Great Lakes, so we'll look for that. '

Preferably, we get several nor'easters, and also preferably, they track right along the coast or even inland a bit to make sure the storms' heavy rains hit the entire region.

There's good thing that could fuel nor'easters. Ocean temperatures just off the Northeast coast are warmer than normal. Warmer water could fuel nor'easters, making them stronger and wetter than they otherwise would be. Wetter is better this year.


How the hell did I get Texas into a discussion about a New England drought?  Well, let me tell ya, pard'ner.

Later in the autumn and into the early winter, we start getting those familar Arctic high pressure systems from Canada that bring us those miserable cold waves. Those highs tend to head southeast from Canada toward New England.

Sometimes, though, the Arctic outbreaks plunge directly southward from central Canada, across the Plains down into Texas. Texans call these things blue northers.

With this set up, the Arctic cold front will sometimes slow down dramatically or stall in a north-south orientation somewhere in the eastern United States. Little storms ripple north along the stalled front. These little storms pick up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dump it as pretty heavy rains near and just to the east of these stalled fronts.

Bonus: By the time these north-south Arctic cold fronts actually make it into and through New England the Arctic blast has weakened. So instead of getting freezing-your-bippy off cold, it just gets kind of chilly.


In November especially, storms sometimes get going in the middle of the country, then head into the Great Lakes. The water in the Great Lakes is still relatively warm that time of year, so the storms feed on that warmish water and get really, really strong.

It's the kind of wild storm that was made famous by Gordon Lightfoot's song "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald," about a ship sinking on Lake Superior during one of these times when "the gales of November come slashin'"

Of course we don't want another ship to sink in the Great Lakes "in the face of a hurricane west wind."

But these Great Lakes storms do swing their active cold fronts eastward into New England. Typically, rainfall with these fronts isn't great, usually on the order of a half inch to sometimes an inch per Edmund Fitzgerald cold front.

If several of these cold fronts come through, though, the precipitation would add up and ease the drought.

I don't know if any of these scenarios will happen. But for the sake of dried up wells and water restrictions, we should hope we get all of the above.

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