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A swath of Massachusetts is in the midst of a severe drought, federal officials said Thursday, citing low levels of precipitation that have left the soil dry and created friendly conditions for tree-eating gypsy moth caterpillars.

The US Drought Monitor, a partnership of federal and university authorities, said that nearly all of Essex and Middlesex counties, along with portions of Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, were covered by the designation as of Tuesday.

Other areas are in a moderate drought, and all of the state, with the exception of Nantucket, remains abnormally dry. Many municipalities have restricted outdoor water use. “Severe drought” is the third-highest designation, eclipsed only by “extreme” and “exceptional.”

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The information was released on the same day the Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force met to consider increasing the drought status for parts of the state. Though the state had a dry spring, it has so far officially been in “normal” status.

Matthew A. Beaton, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said the task force recommended elevating the drought level to “watch” in Central and Northeastern Massachusetts and advised Beaton to consider issuing advisories about dry conditions in Western Massachusetts and the Connecticut River Valley.

Beaton said he will decide in coming days. A drought watch is less severe than a warning or emergency status.

He said such a watch designation “warrants detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, and technical outreach and assistance for the affected municipalities.”

“We’re not at that critical stage yet, but we just want to be making sure we’re doing everything in our power now to avoid worsening the situation down the road as the summer progresses,” he said.

While wet weather alleviated drought concerns elsewhere in New England and in the eastern Great Lakes region, Massachusetts remains dry, according to the Drought Monitor.

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Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.