fb-pixel Skip to main content

What you need to know about the Massachusetts drought

The Hoppin Hill Reservoir in North Attleboro.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The sunny, dry days that you’ve been enjoying this summer have come with a price — drought conditions in much of the state caused by the lack of rain.

State officials said this week “conditions have deteriorated across the state” and 90 percent of the state is experiencing drought conditions.

Here’s what you need to know:

The drought is widespread

The state has declared a Level 2 (significant) drought in the Connecticut River Valley, Central, Northeast, and Southeast regions, and a Level 1 (mild) drought in the Western and Islands regions. The drought levels go all the way up to Level 4, which is an emergency.

Advertisement



Cape Cod is still seeing normal conditions.

In Boston, the problem has been a lack of rain, starting in March. It was the driest first six months of the year since at least 2000.

Impacts go way beyond wilted flowers

Droughts can have a variety of impacts on both nature and humans. The state’s 2019 Drought Management Plan lists the following natural impacts: “diminished quantity and quality of streamflow, groundwater, and surface water, which in turn affect aquatic life and habitat; increased fire danger; decline in the health of forests and other vegetation leading to increased vulnerability to storm damage and uprooting, resulting in increased erosion and reduced bank stability; and indirect impacts to forests from insects, whose predators are vulnerable to drought.”

Impacts to humans, the plan says, include “diminished water supply quantity and quality; reduced water supply, which may lead to diminished pressure for firefighting, increased stress on the agricultural industry, which may need to secure additional water supplies and potentially alter operations; increased fire risk for people and infrastructure especially those living near forests.”

Expect more problems in the future, too. There is ample evidence that climate change is making droughts more intense and frequent, including in New England. That trend is expected to persist, especially absent urgent climate action.

Advertisement



Officials are urging residents to conserve water

The state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said in a statement that it is “incredibly important” that people conserve water, limit outdoor watering, and plant drought-tolerant plants.

The agency urged residents and businesses in Level 2 Drought areas to limit their watering to handheld hoses or watering cans and only water before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. and they asked them to “minimize overall water use.”

People in Level 1 Drought areas should limit their watering to once a week, also sticking to those cooler hours so less water evaporates, officials said. They should also make sure toilets, faucets, and showers are water-efficient.

“While water supplies are currently doing fine,” many communities are proactively imposing watering restrictions, officials said.

The officials also recommended that people address leaks, conduct water audits on larger buildings and businesses, cut down the area of lawn being watered, and harvest rainwater for watering.

The situation is being monitored by state and federal agencies. The Drought Management Task Force, which recommended the drought declaration, will continue to meet until water levels return to normal in the affected regions.

What’s next? Wetter weather may return this fall

Rodney Chai, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Norton office, said, “Humidity has been low, and there’s not been much rain. Even when it rains, it’s hit and miss.”

Advertisement



But, he said, forecasters think that relief may be ahead by the fall.

“Fingers crossed, we should be getting to a somewhat more unsettled pattern, which would favor more rainfall, so hopefully we can chip away at the rainfall deficit,” he said.

He pointed to forecasts from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center that suggested it’s likely that wetter weather will return. The center also offers a Drought Outlook map suggesting it’s likely the drought will fade by October.

Dharna Noor of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.