fb-pixel Skip to main content

Is this a record drought? The answer might surprise you.

A crop of strawberries was harvested from this field in Dracut.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Back in the winter of 2014 to 2015, it seems like the snow would never stop. When all was said and done, we had set a record for the snowiest winter season.

Within a little over a year, drought plagued the landscape through the summer and fall of 2016. Five years later, we would end up with one of the wettest summers on record.

And now, drought has returned with less rain than 2016.

Our yearly fluctuations are dramatic, and even an average year feels like a bit of a whipsaw. From below-zero wind chill to high heat indices, temperatures can vary by well over 100 degrees in six months.


It’s really no wonder New Englanders often don’t just talk about the weather, but complain about it, too.

Wide swings in temperatures are common in New England with hot tropical summers and colder wet winters.NOAA

This summer, like many summers this century, is warmer than average, and it may seem like we’re in record territory for dryness. Looking at the data, we are actually quite close.

Since April this has been the second-driest year on record, and even if we include precipitation since the beginning of the year, we are still solidly a top-ten dry year so far. 1950 and 1965 were dry to this point, but about 2 degrees cooler, so the effect of the dry weather wasn’t quite as bad.

The mid-1960s are well known in the climate records for very dry weather in New England. There is, of course, a long way to go in our year, and a few wet months can change things quickly.

It’s been both a dry year so far and a dry growing season.NOAA

This week, we have more dry weather and extreme heat. As a final system crosses the region Tuesday, there could be a few showers and thunderstorms, but once again, the models dry up much of the rainfall as it reaches the coastline.

Sound familiar? You can see from the projected forecast model below how a line of showers and thunderstorms basically just dissipates as it heads for the Atlantic.


Rain will fall apart as it approaches the coastline on Tuesday evening.Weatherbell

Behind this chance of rain, temperatures will continue to soar.

On Thursday, we may see another day of triple-digit weather — the second this year. The last time we had two days of 100-degree weather in the same year was 1952, which interestingly was also a very hot and dry July.

Readings could reach 100 degrees in spots on Thursday before a pullback in temperatures is possible mid-month. Remember, the longer range temperatures are often very different than what you see predicted. Weatherbell

The drought will likely expand and could become even worse from the upcoming heat and lack of rain.

Although temperatures have certainly climbed in the past 100 years — mostly the result of anthropogenic carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere — the frequency of drought hasn’t really changed.

Data from Logan Airport shows a big increase in temperatures over the past 9 decades.NOAA

The Palmer Hydrological Drought Index — which measures hydrological impacts of drought, such as reservoir levels and groundwater levels, which take longer to develop and longer to recover from, according to NOAA — has not shown a trend here in New England.

Actually, over the past 100 years there is slightly less, not more drought. In the graph below, notice the increase in green bars, which are wetter years.

The Palmer Hydrological Drought Index attempts to quantify the effects of drought on groundwater and reservoirs.NOAA

Just like the snow eventually stopped and melted in 2015, so too will the rains resume this year.

It can be unsettling and frustrating watching our lawns burn, plants droop, and trees lose their leaves, but this will pass.

Soon enough, we’ll be complaining about a wet weekend or how cold it is, and that’s even more predictable than the weather.