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Science & Environment

Drought Conditions Elevated to 'Significant' Across Cape and Islands

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Liz Lerner
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A lawn in Falmouth is brown due to the drought.

This story has been updated to reflect changes announced by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. 

Significant drought conditions have been declared across Massachusetts after a long stretch of warm weather and below-average rainfall.

"The declaration was informed by recommendations and discussions from a recent meeting of the Drought Management Task Force (DMTF), composed of state and federal officials and other entities, and will remain in effect until water levels return to normal in the affected regions."  according to a statement from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.   

While most regions across the state are experiencing a classic long-term drought, the Southeast, Cape Cod, and Islands regions are experiencing a rapid onset drought known as a flash drought. 

These conditions can lead to an increase in wildfires, a decline in food production, and shortages in water supply. They’re also expected to impact local ecosystems. 

 

“A lot of the plant life that exists here exist here because they’re used to a sufficient amount of rainfall, so these dry and hot conditions in effect are really bad for the plant life,” said Zach Zobel, a meteorologist with the Woods Hole Research Center.
 

One concern, Zobel said, is how much more common droughts are becoming. 

 

“As climate change takes place we expect more droughts to occur because as temperatures go up, plants have to pull more moisture out of the soil,” he said. “It’s the plants way of cooling themselves. … And soil moisture is sort of the fundamental indicator for when a drought takes place.” 

 

The state recorded the second hottest July on record last month, and temperatures throughout the first two weeks of August have been two to four degrees above normal with warmer than normal temperatures predicted in the coming weeks and months. 
 

State officials are asking residents to minimize overall water use and limit outdoor watering to hand-held hoses or watering cans once a week. 

"It is essential that residents and businesses across the Commonwealth take extra care to conserve water both indoors and outdoors and be mindful of the increased risk of wildlife when using any fire or smoking materials," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides in a statement. 

 

Now, Zobel said, the ideal drought-breaker would be a steady, long-duration rain shower. 

“A quick pop up thunderstorm that drops an inch of rain in ten minutes, a lot of that rain—because the ground is so hard—is just going to run off into rivers and ocean,” he said. “And it’s not really going to do much for the drought. So it’s not just about the magnitude; it’s about how we get the rain.”