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Forecasters: Expect drought conditions to persist on Long Island

Tamson Yeh, turf and land management specialist with

Tamson Yeh, turf and land management specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County, examines drought damage on a cherry tree in Yaphank on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. Credit: Randee Daddona

Drought conditions are expected to persist at least through November as Long Island remains locked in a dry pattern, according to federal long-range forecasters.

With monthly rainfall, so far, just over 2 inches below normal, August is on track to be the sixth consecutive month with below average precipitation. That period for Long Island MacArthur Airport ranks as the fourth driest since record keeping began in 1984, said Jessica Spaccio, climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center, based at Cornell University.

This means central Suffolk County remains in severe drought, with the rest of the Island in the moderate category, according to the Thursday update from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

What’s more, there appears to be no immediate relief in sight.

The seasonal forecast for meteorological fall — September through November — indicates a tilt in favor of above normal temperatures, with insufficient data to make a call for precipitation, said Anthony Artusa, seasonal forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center, on a Thursday media call.

What’s needed is not just a return to normal monthly precipitation, said Spaccio, who was also on the call, but scenarios with above normal “to get us out of this condition.”

“We need many all-day, soaking, steady rain” events to “break the drought,” said News 12 Long Island meteorologist Rich Hoffman. He sees no major changes until September to the weather pattern that’s been keeping “the soaking rain away” from Long Island and the East Coast.

The next real chance for rainfall is for Sunday into Monday, but even that, should it come, would be for showers and thunderstorms — not for “one of those widespread, all day” events, said Brian Ciemnecki, weather service meteorologist based in Upton.

Though it was not part of the formal forecast, Artusa said odds for improvement in the Northeast region could well start increasing in the winter months, with systems moving frequently along the area’s traditional storm track.

The airport, for which the National Weather Service maintains the Island’s official weather data, has seen 13.24 inches of precipitation since March 1, which is 9.23 inches below the normal of 22.47 inches for that time period, Spaccio said.

Effects of the dry conditions, both on Long Island and regionwide, are taking a toll.

Spaccio pointed to regional impacts that include below normal stream flow; agricultural losses of corn, pumpkins and alfalfa; and increased fire risk.

In some areas Long Islanders’ lawns and plants have been suffering from what’s comparable to heat stroke in humans, said Tamson Yeh, turf and land management specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County.

With people’s irrigation systems “not able to keep up with the demands” and with “soil moisture dwindling,” she said, hot spots are showing up on lawns, and some “trees are showing early fall coloring or defoliation altogether.”

Recent hot weather and lack of rainfall prompted the Suffolk County Water Authority to ask its customers to conserve water. The utility posted its request on its website July 20, urging consumers to “conserve water whenever possible.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said July 15 that New York State was under a drought watch and that: “There are no statewide mandatory water use restrictions in place under a drought watch. However, local public water suppliers may require such measures depending upon local needs and conditions.”

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