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The drought's not over: Despite today's rain, malady lingers on

1.     The official record-keeping observatory for Buffalo moved to the airport in 1943. While Buffalo isn’t necessarily representative of overall WNY statistics, it can be said this has been the worst drought for Buffalo since that move. Even after today’s soaking rains we are still down more than 6” in liquid for the year. But if you add on last December and November, we are down close to 11” in that span of time.

2. Most of Western New York is still classified as being in Severe Drought by the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is quite rare for our region. The next two drought categories after Severe are Extreme (which I still view as unlikely to develop) and Exceptional (which I view as out of the question for our region).

[Related: Worst drought since 1943 plagues Western New York]

3. While the most densely populated part of region is thankfully tied to the reliable Lake Erie supply - water main breaks and all - there is still a large portion of our interior in which many rely on wells. The U.S. Geological Survey reported recently many locations in its groundwater supply network are in the lowest 10th percentile of normal. Groundwater responds slowly to both lack of rain and to rainfall, so this impact is going to be here for some time to come.

4. The flow rate on most rivers, streams and creeks is extremely low. Some smaller creeks on the Niagara Frontier had run dry. Tonawanda Creek and the Genesee River are near record-low levels.

5. Agricultural impacts are already substantial. Non-irrigated field crops are in trouble, and yields will suffer. Irrigation itself is labor-intensive and expensive, so local produce prices are likely to increase, though tree crops are not as impacted as field crops. Today’s rain will provide badly needed shallow soil moisture and give field crops and gardens at least a brief boost. But make no mistake: We are still in a Moderate to Severe Drought. Because drier weather will be returning, it would still be unwise to apply herbicides or fertilizer during a drought. Even with a short greening, stimulating grass leaves in a stressed environment could add to the damage.

6. Drought begets drought. Dry soil and dry vegetation makes for less water vapor in the air through evaporation from the ground and evapotranspiration from vegetation. Monday’s rainfall has been the rare exception to the pattern.

7. Drought begets heat. Dry soil heats more quickly, and the air above it does, too. It may make things a little less muggy when the soil dries again, but the actual temperatures will be higher on many days. For now, this is briefly less of an issue.

8. Brush and wildfire danger has been high. Burn bans are an especially serious matter this year. The dried grasses and vegetation have been a developing tinderbox. Unless there is a fundamental pattern change, the vegetation will dry again, and soon. Evaporation rates increase on the hot days, and even more so on hot, breezy days.

9. It took a long time for this drought to develop, and it will take a long time for it to go away. As of now, there are no immediate signs of any general widespread soaking rainfalls in sight. The following outlook, which is FAR from a sure thing, is not optimistic into the fall.

10. However, our Great Lakes climatology will probably offer some real help later in the summer. When cooler air masses begin crossing Lake Erie, we will likely see bands of lake effect rain occurring in the wake of cold fronts, depending on low level winds. Even before that, there will be more occasions in mid-late August for some spotty nighttime thunderstorms to develop over Lake Erie when the air mass is cooler than the warm lake water. Those storms may not penetrate the interior very far, but they will be the harbinger of the beginning of the lake effect season. Lake effect rain may be our best hope in breaking the grip of this severe drought as we head into the autumn.

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