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About a quarter of Massachusetts is now in extreme drought

Jason Connell threw rocks for his dog Zeus while enjoying the Charles River at Millennium Park, despite the low water levels.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Massachusetts is parched, and it’s only getting worse.

About 25 percent of the state is experiencing an extreme drought, according to the US Drought Monitor, which released a new map on its website Thursday morning.

The “extreme” designation covers a large swath of Eastern Massachusetts — from Essex County to the north, through Greater Boston, and to Bristol County and parts of Plymouth and Barnstable counties in the southern part of the state. It’s the first time Massachusetts has seen extreme drought conditions since 2020, according to Richard Tinker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This year’s extreme drought is the third time Massachusetts has experienced such conditions since 2000, according to Tinker.

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About a quarter of Massachusetts is now in an extreme drought.US Drought Monitor

According to the Drought Monitor, Massachusetts has seen around half of normal rainfall amounts this summer, and 9 to 11 inches less than what’s normal for the year.

Such severe conditions can have serious implications for the region. The drought conditions can threaten the water supply for those who use private wells, in addition to stressing local wildlife and crops.

The federal drought assessments are not official declarations but are offered as guidance, according to state officials.

State officials say they use more detailed information to issue drought declarations that come with specific actions people should take.

After recommendations by the state’s Drought Management Task Force, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card on Tuesday upgraded the state’s drought declarations, saying that most of the state is now in a Level 3 critical drought. The exceptions are the Cape Cod Region, which is in a Level 2 significant drought; Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the far western edge of the state, areas all in a Level 1 mild drought. No area of the state has yet reached Level 4 emergency drought.

Most of Mass. is now in a Level 3 critical drought.Drought Management Task Force

Officials said in a statement that conditions had deteriorated after lower than normal rainfall for the past six months and minimal rain and scorching temperatures in July.

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The officials urged people to take a variety of steps to conserve water, including limiting outdoor watering.

“As the summer continues and low precipitation couples with high temperatures, it is incredibly important that outdoor watering be limited to essential uses to reduce the strain on local water systems,” the statement said.

Communities around the state have implemented restrictions on how residents may use water for nonessential purposes, such as watering lawns. Restrictions range from bans on the use of sprinklers to limitations on when residents can water lawns and plants by hand.

Attleboro recently banned outdoor water use of any kind, including for washing cars, filling pools, play sprinklers, and watering lawns.

”The reservoirs are currently between 6 inches and 20 feet below their average levels for this time of year,” the city warned in a notice to residents.

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.

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Dharna Noor of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.