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Three-quarters of Mass. at ‘abnormally dry’ or moderate drought levels

A couple walks through the Arnold Arboretum in this 2020 file photo. Nearly three quarters of Massachusetts is under “abnormally dry” or “moderate drought” conditions this week, according to the US Drought Monitor.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

Nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts has been under “abnormally dry” or moderate drought conditions this week, an increase of about 8 percentage points from last week, according to the US Drought Monitor.

The monitor, a collaboration between US government researchers and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, on Thursday put out its weekly drought ratings, which showed just under 74 percent of Massachusetts is rated either abnormally dry or at moderate drought levels, compared with just under 66 percent the week prior. It’s part of a trend that experts warn we will likely see more of due to climate change.

Only Western Massachusetts avoided falling into one of those two categories this week, according to the monitor’s data.

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Under abnormally dry conditions, fire danger is elevated and “spring fire season starts early,” the monitor says on its website. In addition, lawns brown early, gardens begin to wilt, surface water levels decline, and crop growth is stunted.

Under moderate drought conditions, according to the monitor site, irrigation use increases; honey production declines; wildfires and ground fires increase; trees, landscaping, and fish are “stressed”; and reservoir and lake levels are below normal capacity.

The news comes about three weeks after state officials on May 11 announced that Bethany Card, Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary, had placed Southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape and Islands under “Level 1-Mild Drought” conditions, citing sporadic rainfall totals in recent months.

“With forecasts showing below normal rainfalls with elevated temperatures, it’s important that we all administer water conservation practices early in the year to minimize stress on our water supply systems and natural habitats,” Card said at the time. “As state officials continue to monitor and analyze ongoing conditions, we ask everyone, particularly those in the Southeast and Islands regions, to be mindful of water usage as we advance further into the growing and outdoor recreational seasons.”

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The Drought Monitor said on its website this week that short-term moderate drought and abnormal dryness conditions expanded in Massachusetts, southeast New Hampshire, eastern Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

There is ample evidence that climate change is making droughts more frequent and severe, including in New England. That trend is expected to persist, especially without urgent action to curb the crisis. Higher temperatures can speed up evaporation rates and leave soil parched, meaning Massachusetts is expected to see more dry days in the future, even as the region sees more rainfall overall.

Warmer temperatures also diminish snowfall in the winter, resulting in less snowmelt — meaning less moisture — in spring.

Massachusetts residents may see some showers this weekend and next week, according to the National Weather Service. But don’t expect a downpour.

“Full sun and milder temperatures return on Saturday, though a passing cold front could produce spotty, isolated showers across northeast Massachusetts,” the weather service said Friday in a forecast advisory. “Beautiful weather with seasonably warm temperatures and comfortable humidity then continue into Monday. There may be some showers at times Tuesday through Thursday as a few weak fronts move through, but a washout is not expected.”

Dharna Noor of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.