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Lack of rain causes NY’s first drought watch in 14 years


Long Island has dealt with a very basic problem in recent years: there’s just not enough rain. 

And with the lack of significant rainfall recently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation declared a drought watch Friday for the first time in 14 years.

“While most public water supplies are still generally normal throughout the state, below normal precipitation over the last nine months, low stream flows and reduced groundwater levels have prompted the need for this action,” DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.

The drought watch represents the DEC’s lowest level of drought advisory, with “warning,” “emergency” and “disaster” representing more dire situations.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), this run of dry weather isn’t cause for panic yet.

Tim Morrin, observation and fire weather program leader at the NWS’s station in Upton, said officials are keeping a close eye on the rising water deficit.

“The months have gone by one after another with below average rainfall,” he said.

While his department does advise the DEC of weather patterns, Mr. Morrin said the DEC decides when to issue its own warnings.

So far this year, the NWS’s closest Long Island station in Islip has recorded rain totals at 5.13 inches fewer than normal. In June, rainfall totals were 3.14 inches below average, with just over an inch of rain falling on our area for the entire month, Mr. Morrin said, adding the total isn’t unusual since the latest dry weather pattern started last year.

Since January 2015, Long Island is down more than a foot of rain compared to normal levels.

Last summer was ranked as the sixth driest summer on record, with only 7.27 inches of rain. Of the top 25 driest summers to date, seven have occurred since 2005, Mr. Morrin said.

While this July has experienced a surplus of 0.25 inches of rain above average, Mr. Morrin said Long Island needs consistent rainfall for multiple months in order to restore its deficit.

“[July’s results] are just going to keep us at status quo,” he said. “It takes a long time to create a drought and it takes a long time to get out of a drought.”

Officials are now noticing effects of the drought, as water tables and reservoirs levels are beginning to drop due to the lack of rain.

“We are encouraging residents throughout the state to conserve water whenever possible during the coming months,” Mr. Seggos said.

Unfortunately, the next few days show little sign of relief, Mr. Morrin said.

Saturday’s temperatures will break 90 degrees, which he said is six degrees above normal, and there’s only the chance of a passing shower at night.

Sunday’s weather forecast shows it will be mostly sunny with a high temperature of 86 and Monday reach temperatures in the 80s, Mr. Morrin said.

While the mugginess and humidity is expected to break, there’s no large storm predicted this week.

“It does not look good for any alleviation of this drought,” he said.

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Photo: A farmer plows a dry field last summer during the seventh driest summer on record, according to the National Weather Service. An extended rain deficit has officials concerned. (Credit: Suffolk Times, file)