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Heavy rains eased drought conditions in Mass. but only slightly

A couple reflected in a rain puddle walked out to Head Island near Pleasure Bay in Boston.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

The heavy rains that fell earlier this week helped ease the state’s prolonged summer drought, but only somewhat, the US Drought Monitor said Thursday.

The proportion of Massachusetts experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions fell slightly, from nearly 94 percent to 86 percent, the monitor reported. But areas facing extreme drought, a more severe category, fell more sharply, from 38 percent of the state last week to 8 percent.

Extreme drought continues in several coastal communities.U.S. Drought Monitor

Those areas are mainly in the northeastern and southeastern parts of the state.

The improved conditions come on the heels of heavy rains Monday and Tuesday that provided a small measure of relief to the region. There were flood watches issued for Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where Cranston received more than 11 inches of rain.

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Elsewhere in Rhode Island, rain totals included Providence (8.31 inches), Smithfield (7.95 inches), and North Providence (7.31 inches), per the National Weather Service. In Massachusetts, rainfall totals included 5.37 inches in Attleboro, 4.8 inches in North Attleborough, 4 inches in Rehoboth, 4.1 inches in Douglas, 4.06 inches in Auburn, 4.02 inches in Grafton, 3.54 inches in Franklin, 3.4 inches in Framingham, 3.02 inches in Lexington, 3.2 inches in Westfield, and 3.75 inches in Southwick.

Under extreme drought conditions, crop loss is widespread, wildlife disease outbreaks are possible, and there is a “reduced flow to ceased flow of water,” among other factors, the drought monitor said. As climate change progresses, drought is expected to become more common in New England. Warmer temperatures can speed up evaporation rates and leave soil parched while also diminishing snowfall in the winter, resulting in less moisture from snowmelt in the spring.

In New Hampshire, 24 percent of the state is in severe drought, while another 23 percent was in the category of moderate drought. In Maine, a southern enclave making up 3 percent of the state was experiencing severe drought, while another 6 percent had a moderate drought reading, the monitor said.

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Even after the heavy rains this week, 25 percent of Rhode Island remains in extreme drought conditions, with the rest of the state is in severe or moderate drought.

The monitor is a joint effort of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the US Department of Agriculture.

Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.