Friday, January 27, 2017

Weird Vermont January No Drought Breaker

Despite an seemingly endless spell of damp, gloomy
weather in Vermont this January, almost all of the state
is still abnormally dry or in drought. (yellow and
orange shading on map.)
For the last eight days in Burlington, Vermont ending Wednesday, the temperature spread has only been 16 degrees.

That is very strange, because this time of year, in the depths of winter, the temperature spread is usually all over the place.

It's completely normal for the temperature to say, be 45 degrees on a Wednesday, then be 15 below zero by the subsequent Saturday.

Yeah, that would be a 60 degree temperature spread within four days, but it's something that happens at least once most winter.

However, the recent teeny, tiny temperature spread, which I swear must be some kind of record but I  can't prove it, is a hallmark of an odd weather pattern.  One that has been gloomy and depressing, but has a very slight silver lining which I'll get to in a bit.

We've been stuck in a situation with no big Arctic outbreaks and no dramatic changes in weather patterns that are normal for mid-winter in the North Country.

It has been damp, foggy, drizzly, sometimes icy, almost always dark and overcast with relatively frequent bouts of precipitation. The last sunny day we had was 10 days ago, and that's a weirdly long stretch of weather without any real sun in Vermont.

You'd think, then, with this damp weather, that drought that we had which got so much publicity in the summer and autumn would be long over.

Think again.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of Thursday, about 65 percent of Vermont is still in moderate drought, and only  tiny sliver of the Northeast Kingdom is not abnormally dry.

Droughts in a Vermont winter are not that noticeable unless precipitation is far below normal. That's because it's hard to dry things out more than they already are in the Green Mountain State during the cold season.

Here's why: When the mostly forested Vermont is all leafed out, all those trees suck up tons of moisture from the ground. Now, trees are dormant, so they're not taking all our groundwater.

The sun angle is low, and it's really cloudy, so evaporation isn't much of a factor. Besides the ground is largely frozen, and not much moisture evaporates from frozen soil.

And here's our slight silver lining I told you about: The long stretch of gloomy weather has added some moisture to the mix, which is slightly easing th drought that began last year.

Still, that drought  still lurks, and it can still bite us in the butt this spring if weather patterns don't stay wet and turn even wetter.

It's hard to find evidence of the possibly ominous dryness in Vermont right now, but if you look, you find it.

Here's an example: About a week and a half ago, I decided to burn much of the brush that I had accumulated in piles around my St. Albans, Vermont property.

I had one pile burning, and was pullling branches from another pile to throw into the fire. Once I got down a ways into the second pile, I encountered lots of dust, and dryness and brittle dry branches.

Great for the burn pile, but bad if you're worried about drought. It's still dry out there if you dig down enough under foot.

We could use quite a few more wet storms.

True, things have gotten better. December's precipitation in Vermont was close to normal, and it looks like January's precipitation won't be far from average, either.

Lake Champlain's lake level has responded to the modestly better precipitation. The lake level had fallen to below 95 feet below sea level in early July, which is quite low. The lake level stayed at that low level until right around mid-January when it got just above 95 feet.

Still low, but an improvement.

It's been a stormy winter for the United States, so areas of severe drought have eased in a lot of places. California and the Southeast are much improved from the very bad droughts they were enduring just months ago.

The improvement in Vermont has been slower, but it IS there.

The U.S. Drought monitor says that three months ago, 29 percent of Vermont was in severe drought. Now, that figure is three percent. Just a tiny portion of Vermont along the Connecticut River in Windam County is in severe drought.

Almost all of the rest of the state is either in moderate drought or abnormally dry.

If we really want to finish off Vermont's drought once and for all, here's a recipe of what should happen:

We ought to get above normal snowfall in February and the first half of March. (Ski resorts probably wouldn't complain about that.)

Then in late March through the spring, we should get frequent moderate rainfalls. Nothing extreme, no big gigantic downpours, but frequent, long lasting run of the mill rain storms.

Yeah, I know you all want a sunny, warm spring. but I'm going to quote the old Lynn Anderson country song "Rose Garden":  "Along with the sunshine, there's gotta be a little rain sometimes."

Warm sunshine in the spring is good. Maybe we can hope for great timing: Rainy nights and sunny days.

Wouldn't that be nice. Dream on.

Think of it this way: A rainy spring would be a great alternative to more dried up wells and out of control brush fires, wouldn't it?

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