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Chris’ Weather Corner - “Drought Watch in Effect for Most of New York State”

By Chris Gilberti | August 22, 2022

A Drought Watch has been issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for the majority of counties in the state of New York, including Albany County. The US Drought Monitor now shows most of the Northeast US in some level of drought, with much of New York State in moderate or severe drought due to the lack of rainfall so far this summer.

Photo Credit: USDA, NDMC, DOC, NOAA

A drought watch is the first of four levels of advisory for drought conditions in New York put out by the DEC, meaning that there is concern about the supply of water and that residents and businesses should begin to take steps to help reduce water consumption. This watch was recently expanded to include most of the state, excluding only the Adirondacks, New York City, Westchester County, and parts of the Great Lakes region. While a drought watch is meant to encourage voluntary water conservation, statewide restrictions to reduce consumption are not yet in place.

New York DEC map showing regions of New York included in a drought watch, including Albany and the greater Capital Region.

Photo Credit: NY DEC

There are a number of factors that go into determining when there is a drought in a given area. Some of these include reservoir levels, soil moisture, and recent precipitation amounts. Reservoir levels are critical when determining the stage of a drought, as a lack of water for uses in agriculture or even for drinking can have obvious detrimental consequences. Thankfully, according to a variety of local government officials across the Capital Region, reservoir levels, while lower than normal, are still not at a level where strict regulations will be required.

Soil moisture is also a very important metric during droughts as low water content in the ground can increase the risk of wildfire, posing a threat to life and property. Low soil moisture also increases the reliance on irrigation in agriculture, further straining an already low water supply. For measuring soil moisture, we can turn to the New York State Mesonet at UAlbany, which has a network of weather stations across the state that measure, among many other variables, soil moisture. Generally, soil should contain 20-30% water content. According to Mesonet data however, much of the state is at around half of that - with the Voorheesville site nearby to Albany measuring only 8-14% depending on depth.

Recent precipitation amounts are the driver of a drought, as this affects both reservoir levels and soil moisture. This can also be monitored using data from the New York State Mesonet, as well as with observations from the National Weather Service. Going back to May 20, Mesonet data shows that most areas of the state included in the drought watch are anywhere from two to eight inches below average in terms of accumulated precipitation. This lines up well with official National Weather Service measurements showing the city of Albany about five and a quarter inches below normal rainfall since the start of the summer. With these kinds of numbers, it will take a pretty significant pattern change to bring rainfall totals back to where they should be.

Luckily, starting this week there is some rain in the forecast, and heading into Sept., New York should be on track to see around average amounts of precipitation. While this won't immediately relieve drought conditions, it should hopefully keep the situation from becoming too much worse. Unfortunately for lovers of fall foliage though, the dry and hot summer has put a lot of stress on the trees and will likely cause those beautiful vibrant colors to be a bit more dull this time around.


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