Monday, September 25, 2023

Orange County Now in a Drought

As unusually dry conditions persist across Orange County, streams are beginning to dry up, lawns have turned brown, and wildfire dangers are increasing. The area is now officially under a minor drought and conditions may continue to worsen.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has placed Orange County in the lowest level of a drought. Most of Orange County has entered a “D0” drought stage, which is the first of five levels and declares water conditions as being abnormally dry.

Much of New England is under a “D1” drought, which is considered moderate. Some areas of Massachusetts have already reached “D2” drought stage, which is severe. In fact, 64.5% of the United States is currently at various levels of drought stages.

Similarly, the Department of Environmental Control (DEC) has placed all of New York State, except the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, under high fire danger for the past several days. This will likely continue until a soaking rain comes. “Fires may become serious and their control difficult unless they are attacked successfully while small,” the DEC warns.

Reservoirs holding the region’s drinking water supply are mostly located in the Catskills, which is not under a drought. Although the reservoirs are slightly lower than normal, they contain plenty of water. According to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the reservoirs are normally at 93.1% capacity and have only dropped to 87.7%. Even so, local municipalities do not typically initiate water restrictions at such an early stage of a drought.

Vail’s Gate Tower, a calibrated weather tower owned and operated by The Newburgh News, has barely recorded any rain this summer. As of July 16, 2022, only two days of rain were logged so far this month. The last rainfall came on July 8, but was brief and only produced 0.04″. On July 2, a soaking rain dropped 0.77″ of rain.

In total, 0.81″ of rain fell during the first 15 days of July this year compared to 2.20″ during the same time period last year. This July only saw two days of rain, compared to 10 days during the same time period last year. Dry conditions have been persisting since mid-June.

“There is a good likelihood for showers and thunderstorms Monday night along and ahead of a cold front that passes through by daybreak Tuesday,” National Weather Service meteorologists from the Upton, NY office wrote in a joint technical discussion. “The Weather Prediction Center has the area in a marginal risk for excessive rainfall with precipitable water values around two inches.”

In layman’s terms, if experts are correct, the area could receive up to 2″ of rain late Monday into Tuesday. If meteorologists are wrong and the bulk of the rain misses our area, no other relief is coming in the immediate future.

Following the cold front, a heat wave will impact the area for the remainder of next week. Temperatures are forecast to reach the low to mid 90s from Tuesday through Friday – and possibly longer. The only other chance of rain will come from a few passing thundershowers during the upcoming heat wave.

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