By Terry Eliasen, Meteorologist, WBZ-TV Exec. Weather Producer

BOSTON (CBS) – For the first time since the significant drought of 2016-17, parts of Massachusetts were classified Thursday to be in “extreme drought.”

While not nearly as expansive as the drought from four years ago, the drought concerns are rising week by week here in New England. Six-point-eight percent of Massachusetts is now in level 3 (extreme drought). By comparison, 52 percent of the state reached this level back in the drought of 2016-17.

What is more concerning is we are clearly headed in the wrong direction with regards to water levels and drought conditions in Massachusetts and all of New England.

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More than 30 percent of our state is in the “severe drought” category and about half of the state is considered to be in “moderate drought”.

The same trends can be seen in neighboring states.

In the last week, areas of severe drought in New Hampshire increased by 44 percent.

In Maine, the area of severe drought rose by about 20-percent and for the first time, an area of extreme drought appeared in the northern part of the state.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, Rhode Island now has nearly 80 percent of their state in extreme drought this week.

So what does extreme drought mean?

First and foremost, it means widespread water shortages and restrictions, which undoubtedly many of you have already experienced in your cities and towns. If it persists, extreme drought can start to impact local crops as well, leading to major losses in that industry.

Thankfully, the drought in 2020 has been what we would consider “short term” thus far. We had a few, very wet years prior to this one and our water shortage has really only been about five months at this point.

Since May, Boston is just over eight inches below the average rainfall and has five straight months of deficits of over an inch.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

Eight inches of rain is not insignificant. This is more than two months worth of rainfall for Boston, and isolated areas around New England have deficits of nearly 10 inches in the same timespan.  Without some sort of tropical system making landfall in New England (not exactly something to wish for), these water shortages will be extremely difficult to make up for in the short term.

Most computer models are pointing towards the dry trend continuing through the rest of September, showing our best hope of any significant rainfall coming from the leftovers or remnants from tropical systems, something very hard to bank on.

So, if this trend indeed continues, you can expect the water restrictions and bans to increase this fall. Fire danger is also heightened with lots of brown, dry or dead brush lying around.

And last but not least, the drought will undoubtedly have some negative impacts on our fall foliage season. This is a bit harder to predict as dry conditions (and stress on trees) can affect each species a bit differently. Drought can cause some trees to drop their leaves early in an effort to conserve water, while other trees may change color several weeks late.

In general, dry weather in the fall is typically a positive for foliage season, but given we have been dry since late spring, the trees will be stressed and foliage conditions will therefore likely be quite variable this year.

Follow Terry on Twitter @TerryWBZ

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