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Blame it on the rain; drought worsens in some areas, lifts in others

This summer’s severe drought across Western New York was downgraded to “extreme” Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In other spots, though, it’s virtually non-existent.

It's all a function of where the rain has fallen over the last couple of weeks.

In southeastern Erie County and across the Southern Tier, as much as seven inches of rain has fallen over the last three weeks.

Places like Colden, Springville, Jamestown and Kennedy have virtually wiped-out months-long precipitation deficits.

Meanwhile, other spots across the region, especially closer to the Buffalo metro area and points east toward Batavia, have seen little more than scattered drops of rain.

“I know a few people who are out there that say ‘it’s not a big deal,’ but I’m like you guys are lucky,” said Brad Draudt, a Southtowns farmer. “Literally, a few miles one way or another, they’ve got an inch of rain, and we’ve got none.”

Mapping the precipitation from around the region bears that out:

Less than two miles from Draudt’s nursery, a weather station shows that, as of Thursday morning, just over 9 inches of rain has fallen since April 1. That’s about 40 percent less than normal for that time period.

The figures are even worse across northern Erie, Genesee and on east to Livingston County through the Finger Lakes, which are now classified as being under extreme drought conditions. Only areas of southern California are classified worse by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The 60-year-old Porter Farms in Elba finds itself one of those extreme spots.

Some of its crop of organic vegetables was lost so completely, crews ripped them out and started anew with hopes of salvaging something before November.

“My husband said, ‘this is the driest season he’s seen since 1961,’” said Emily Porter, the farm's marketing coordinator. “It’s a year to just get through.”

Meanwhile, across southern Erie County and the Southern Tier, persistent and heavy rains this month have brought the water deficit nearly back to scratch.

Take Colden, for instance.

Just 11 miles away from Draudt’s farm to the southeast, Colden has picked up 7.38 inches of rain since Aug. 1 alone.

That’s nearly the same amount that’s fallen at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport – 7.50 inches – since April 1.

The average rainfall for the region between April 1 and Aug. 18 is 15.33 inches.

“It’s just kind of the way the pattern is set up right now,” said Tony Ansuini, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “We haven’t had the heavy rain storms up here. It’s been hit and miss. Down there, it’s been more widespread.”

Ansuini attributed that to Lake Erie’s stabilizing effect on the atmosphere.

It’s tamped down strong convection in areas northeast of the lake. Away from its effect, the rain has come.

Jamestown has picked up more than 5 inches of rain this month, bringing its total to more than 17 inches of precipitation since April. In nearby Frewsburg and Kennedy, several inches of August rain has boosted its totals to more than 18 inches and 16 inches respectively over that time.

Even further north in Glenwood, near Springville, records show close to four inches of rain has fallen this month. Its total since April 1 is now nearly 17 inches.

U.S. Drought Monitor, Northeast, Aug. 18, 2016

U.S. Drought Monitor, Northeast, Released Aug. 18, 2016

In some areas, it might be too little too late.

“We’re coming out of it,” said Chuck Couture, the president of the Cattaraugus County Farm Bureau. “But, it’s hard to say whether the crops are going to make it.”

For Draudt, who farms in the Hamburg and Orchard Park areas, the news isn’t even marginally good.

Being not far enough south means picking under-quality cauliflower and broccoli is a daily certainty.

Draudt said the vegetables are small and their leaf tips are burned from the heat and dryness.

[RELATED: Only August 1988 has been warmer than this one; more heat coming]

The little rain that has fallen has actually hurt other crops like tomatoes.

“Water hit them, and their skins are splitting,” Draudt said. “The plants are stressed out.”


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