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WNY in ‘moderate drought’ that could affect crops

A moderate drought is gripping the Niagara Frontier, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The agency’s latest regional drought monitor categorized all of Niagara and Orleans counties – along with northern Erie and western Genesee counties and areas of the Finger Lakes and the Catskills – as places that moved from “abnormally dry” into “moderate drought.” Abnormally dry conditions persist in much of the rest of the state and the northeast U.S.

A lack of precipitation – more than a half-foot below average since April 1 – has accompanied warmer than average temperatures.

The signs of that are everywhere.

Lawns aren’t growing. Flower beds are wilting. Creek beds are starting to run dry.

At places like Kappus Farms in Burt, people are using a lot of water for irrigation this spring.

“This is pretty dry,” said owner Tom Kappus.

With just 4.42 inches of precipitation heading into Tuesday, it’s never been drier between April Fools’ Day and Independence Day in Buffalo since official records started being kept at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in 1943. According to unofficial records, kept at the Buffalo Harbor prior to 1943, it was drier in 1941, when just 3.42 inches of precipitation fell. But since 1943, on average, more than 10½ inches of precipitation has fallen in that time.

According to unofficial records, kept at the Buffalo Harbor prior to 1943, the driest it’s been between April 1 and July 4 was in 1941, when just 3.42 inches of precipitation fell.

That lack of rain has actually been good for Kappus’ cherry crop this year.

“They’re coming out a lot sweeter than they normally do,” he said.

But for everything else, Kappus said, water is sorely needed.

He said peaches, apples and other fruits will likely be smaller than normal this year because of the lack of rainfall.

Vegetables, many of which have shallow root systems, are offering greater challenges for growers.

“We’re still watering everything we can,” said Mark Zittel of Amos Zittel & Sons in Eden. “All of the equipment has been running six or seven weeks in a row now.”

Long-time TV meteorologist Don Paul – now a contributing writer for The Buffalo News – said in a recent blog post that lack of moisture in the soil only exacerbates the dry conditions across the landscape.

“Evaporation from moist soil and vegetation adds to the supply of water vapor in the air for approaching showers or thunderstorms,” Paul wrote. “The dryness we have now works against us. Drought begets more drought in the summer months.”

That lack of moisture is causing ripple effects in places seen and unseen.

“The water table drops, and runoff decreases for the stream and creek levels,” said Steve Welch, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo. “A lot of the creeks are low or very low, running down to a trickle.”

There won’t be much relief in the immediate forecast. Daytime high temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-80s through the end of the week.

There is a chance for thunderstorms from Wednesday night through late Saturday, but the best opportunity won’t come until an approaching storm system crosses the central Great Lakes late Friday. Another sustained round of sunny, dry days is expected between Sunday and the middle of next week.

“It’s not enough to do too much, but it’ll help,” Welch said of the possible thunderstorms. “You may see grass green up for a couple of days to a week; but if drought persists, it’ll go back and brown out a little more.”