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Wet January weather helps improve LI’s drought status

Verona Parkway at W. Lake Drive in West

Verona Parkway at W. Lake Drive in West Babylon is partially flooded as a nor'easter hits the area Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

Having taken one small step into February, we can now look back at the precipitation January brought Long Island.

The month came in a bit ahead of the game, with 4.06 inches — which includes rain, melted snow and such — recorded at Long Island MacArthur Airport. That’s 0.42 inches above the monthly norm at the airport, where the Island’s official weather records have been maintained since 1984.

That was one of the factors that helped spring the Island from the severe drought category, as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly map featuring an intensity index and discussion of the country’s latest drought conditions.

The monitor moved eastern Suffolk County to the less-intense moderate drought category in its Jan. 12 update, and placed the rest of the Island there as of its Jan. 19 update. Moderate drought is the second least intense of the monitor’s five categories.

Much of Suffolk had been deemed in severe drought since July 26, and most of the rest of Long Island was named to that category in mid-September, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, based at Cornell University.

With drought relief, “it’s easier to catch up in winter,” said Jessica Spaccio, climatologist with the regional climate center.

“In winter, the demand for water is generally lower,” with less water use for agriculture, lawns and gardens, she said. Also, there’s less water evaporation from plants in that season.

The determination of drought severity can be based on a number of factors, including precipitation, soil moisture and groundwater levels.

As for snowfall, January’s amounted to 14 inches, which is 7.3 inches above normal for the month at the airport in Ronkonkoma. The big day for snow was Jan. 23, which brought 9.7 inches.

Perhaps not so surprising is the month’s average temperature of 36.2 degrees, which came in at 5.6 degrees above normal, making it the sixth warmest January since records started being kept, the regional climate center said.

Indeed, with 38 degrees the average monthly high, January delivered 13 days that saw highs in the 40s, and nine that warmed up to the 50s.

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