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Summer of 2023 goes down as second rainiest on record in Boston, forecasters say

Heavy rain and wind in Boston on Aug. 18 had some covering up in plastic.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The only summer it rained more than this one, a pair of hurricanes inundated southern New England in rapid succession and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” topped the pop charts.

More than 20 inches of rain fell in Boston over the past three months, the second-highest total on record, the National Weather Service said Thursday. Only 1955, when two hurricanes passed by the region a week apart in August, saw more rainfall, with nearly 25 inches. The weather service’s rainfall records date back to 1872.

The fourth-highest total came just two years ago, when the city received close to 20 inches of rain. Last year, less than 4.5 inches of rain fell, creating “critical drought” conditions across much of Massachusetts. It was the driest summer in Boston in 138 years.

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“We seem to be having pendulum swings from very dry to very wet over the last several years,” said Bryce Williams, a meteorologist with the weather service.

Climate change experts warn that extreme weather is becoming increasingly common. July was likely the planet’s warmest month on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zachary Zobel, assistant scientist and risk associate director for the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Falmouth, said climate change is leading to more “boom or bust” precipitation patterns in the Northeast and most of the country.

“This means that dry periods tend to get longer and when precipitation occurs, it is occurring all at once in the form of extreme events,” Zobel said by email Thursday.

Auroop Ganguly, a Northeastern University professor and director of the Global Resilience Institute in Boston, said extreme shifts in weather are known among climate scientists as “drought-to-deluge” cycles and are expected to become more common as global temperatures rise.

“These are the things we expect in the future, and clearly this is a strong warning sign that we need to be resilient to exactly these kinds of fluctuations,” he said.

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This summer’s heavy rains led to flooding across New England and caused millions of dollars in damage in some areas, including Vermont and New Hampshire in July.

In Massachusetts, the July rains flooded dozens of farms, mostly in the western part of the state, wiping out their crops. The state Department of Agricultural Resources estimated that 110 farms and about 2,700 acres of farmland were impacted by severe weather this summer, with about $15 million in losses.

The weather also caused extensive damage in some cities and towns. North Andover officials reported nearly $30 million in damages from a powerful August storm that battered the area with rain and multiple tornadoes.

The rainy weather didn’t spare Cape Cod, but Paul Niedzwiecki, chief executive for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said he didn’t believe it discouraged visitors this summer.

“I think they’re kind of conditioned to have a Plan B if it’s not a perfect beach day,” he said.

It may have changed some vacation plans, however, since business has jumped during the second half of August, past the season’s peak, he said.

“Early in the season the overcast weather may have had an impact on day-trippers … so I think people may have postponed visiting the Cape and came down as summer closes out,” he said.

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In Rhode Island, the Providence area received just over 16 inches of rain this summer, according to the weather service, the 12th most in state history. Two years ago, the state received just over 15 inches of rain.

The wettest summer in Rhode Island came in 1922, when more than 20 inches fell, followed by 18.26 inches in 1982, and 18.18 inches in 1955, when Hurricanes Connie and Diane blew through the region.

Williams said weather patterns fluctuate between “troughs” and “ridges” that deliver either cool air from the north or warm air from the south, depending on the location of the jet stream. In a trough, the jet stream dips down into New England and the Northeast, bringing cooler and often wet weather, he said.

“We just had a high-pressure ridge set up over areas to the west of New England for much of the summer, and we were just in a continual pattern where we had that jet stream dipping down into the Northeast over and over,” Williams said.

The meteorological summer (June, July, and August) ends Thursday with mild temperatures and dry air that is expected to continue through Friday, according to the weather service.

Temperatures will reach the mid-80s over Labor Day weekend, with a return to summer heat and humidity expected by the middle of next week, forecasters said.

There was no rain in the immediate forecast.

Carlos R. Muñoz of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him @NickStoico.