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At long last, WNY drought is over

Thank Winter Storm Stella for driving the final stake into Western New York's drought.

For the first time since last May 24, the National Drought Monitor in its weekly report that the region is entirely free of drought or abnormally dry soil conditions.

The nearly 10-month stretch was the longest consecutive dry spell on record in Erie and Niagara counties, since the Drought Monitor started reporting statistics in 2000.

The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly report released Thursday showed the dry spell that plagued Western New York much of 2016 and earlier this year has ended. (U.S. Drought Monitor)

The 33.87 inches of total precipitation in 2016 finished about seven inches drier than normal for the year. It followed another below-average year in 2015.

Recent months' precipitation and snow-melt has replenished the water table throughout the region.

"It's definitely recharged," said Patrick Spoth of Clarence Center. "There's plenty of moisture."

After a precipitation deficit of more than seven inches between last April and July alone, precipitation fell at more than one-half inch above normal at Buffalo since last Aug. 1, according to National Weather Service data.

That includes rain and snowfall.

"The second-half of the summer and fall we had some above-normal months that it helped to recharge things," said Dan Kelly, a weather service meteorologist.

Last week's big Nor'easter helped finish off the come-back.

"A late-winter storm brought widespread rain and snow to the region at the beginning of the period, further alleviating drought intensity and coverage," the federal Drought Monitor summarized for the Northeast.

The nearly 20 inches of snow that fell in Buffalo was the equivalent of more than an inch of liquid precipitation after it melted. That's boosted March's average precipitation to just above normal.

More is on the way.

A stalled weather system will keep things wet in the Buffalo Niagara region through next Tuesday, National Weather Service forecasts show.

More than an inch of rain is expected by then, which should help further boost this spring's precipitation total.

Meanwhile, portions of New England down through the Mid-Atlantic states along the Eastern Seaboard remain under drought conditions.

This week's drought-free report is the Buffalo Niagara region's first in 10 months.

Last August, for the first time since at least 2000, Erie County was under "extreme drought" conditions.

That led Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to declare a natural disaster here and in other affected spots across the state because of losses to crops and farmlands.

The most severely impacted were dairy and cash crop farms as corn and soybeans were stunted or shriveled by the lack of rainfall.

Other local farmers, who can easily irrigate their crops, were hit less hard -- except on the water bill.

Western New Yorkers battle once-in-a-generation drought

For Mark Zittel, 2017 brings new opportunity in the Eden Valley.

"We're ready to rip for this year," said Zittel of Amos Zittel & Sons, Inc.

Zittel said sweet corn and lettuce will start going in protected by plastic over the next week or so. Then, cabbage will be planted by mid-April.

"My father gets really anxious if we don't have any sweet corn in by April 1," Zittel said.

Spoth, who's a director at the Erie County Farm Bureau, said area farmers will pray for spring to arrive with warming temperatures and gradual rainfall at normal levels.

Because too much rain isn't good either.

"Farmers say 'a dry year will hurt you, but a wet year will kill you,'" Spoth said. "You can always add water, but you can't take it off."

Long-range forecasts bode well at this point.

The federal Climate Prediction Center forecasts "equal chances" for more or less precipitation for April, May and June with warmer than average temperatures.

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