BOSTON – It's hard to believe that after a winter of record-setting snowfall, much of New England is approaching drought conditions.
The three-month meteorological spring, which started March 1 and ends Sunday, has so far been much drier than normal, according to the National Weather Service, and the conditions have farmers concerned.
The entire six-state region is considered either "abnormally dry" or in moderate drought.
Steve Verrill, the 79-year-old owner of Verrill Farms in Concord, Massachusetts, thought he had seen it all in a lifetime of growing vegetables.
"We're irrigating asparagus, which is a very drought-tolerant crop, and I have never done that before," he said.
So what gives? Surely the soil should be moist and the region's reservoirs, lakes and rivers should be full of snowmelt.
The simple answer is evaporation, said Michael Rawlins, an assistant professor of geosciences and a hydrology specialist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
"That snow melts and you do fill up the upper part of the soil, but you get a lot of evaporation from the soil surface at this time of the year," he said. "We've had a lot of evaporation and very little precipitation."
Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, pointed out that the snow was fluffy and dry.
"Yes, we got a lot of snow, but the snow didn't have a big water content and so there wasn't much to soak into the ground when it melted," he said.
Boston, with less than one-third of an inch of rain in May, is on track to have its second driest May on record. Concord, New Hampshire, has had just 0.18 inches of rain in May, and if that holds, it will be the city's driest May.
Portland, Maine; Worcester, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Hartford, Connecticut, are all below normal for spring rainfall.
According to the National Weather Service's latest seasonal drought outlook, drought conditions are expected to persist or intensify this summer in all of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as southern portions of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. In eastern and northern Maine, drought development is likely.
Dick Fabrizio, owner of Windy Ridge Orchard and Christmas Tree Farm in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, said the dry spring has him worried about the 700 balsam and Fraser fir seedlings he planted, plus the squash and pumpkin crops.
"It's been very difficult to have any germination at all since the ground has been so dry," Fabrizio said.
Verrill and Frabrizio agree that there is one advantage to a dry spring: It makes their produce less susceptible to diseases that thrive in wetter weather.
Scattered showers and thunderstorms have been moving through New England, and they can drop a half-inch of rain in a short period, but what the region needs is a soaking storm.
"We need a day, a day and a half of light but steady rain to get back to normal," Dunham said.