The ground is still hard. The welcome rain we’ve had this month hasn’t soaked down to replenish any aquifer. Parched streams refilled for a few days after the rain, then receded.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week the farmers in all of the state’s eight counties are eligible for disaster relief because of the lack of rainfall.
Welcome to the 2020 drought.
Except …. A third of the state — all of Fairfield County, and much of New Haven County and half of Litchfield County — is not so dehydrated. It’s been parched. But not droughty.
If you look at the map issued weekly by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the state is divided roughly into thirds. You can find it at https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CT
The western third is yellow — abnormally dry. There’s a wide, tan band to the east that bisects Litchfield County — moderate drought. Orange — severe drought — covers Hartford, Tolland, Windham and New London counties.
“Western Connecticut is nowhere near the situation of eastern Connecticut,” said Gary Lessor, director of The Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. “It’s not even in a drought.”
“It’s unusual to see such differences in such a small space,” said Bill Jacquemin, senior meteorologist at the Connecticut Weather Center in Danbury.
Statewide, the summer has been dry.
Matt Spies of Brookfield, state coordinator of CoCoRaHS — the Community Collective Rain, Snow and Hail Network, volunteer weather-watchers who collect precipitation data nationwide — said rainfall has generally been below normal through much of the year, with June and July very dry.
Nor was the 2019-20 winter that wasn’t — no blizzards, no nor’easters — a great boost.
“We had a lackluster winter,” Spies said.
But March, April and May were better, filling reservoirs and stocking up groundwater supplies. Then the aridity hit — especially east of the Connecticut River.
Jacquemin said that because of weather patterns, the western part of the state got some needed rain this summer. The eastern half did not.
For example, when Tropical Storm Isaias hit the state on Aug. 4, the center of the storm moved up the Hudson River Valley in New York. There was heavy rain there.
West of western Connecticut got a soaking — the closer to New York, the wetter. In the northeast corner of the state — the quiet corner — Isaias was all wind, no rain.
“Even the thunderstorms we got this summer fizzled out before they reached eastern Connecticut,” Jacquemin said.
October has been a turn for the better with two heavy, statewide rain storms, including the remnants of Hurricane Delta on Oct. 12. The rain helped the state’s eastern half, which had been in the red zone — extreme drought — before it fell.
Spies said there’s been about two to three inches of rain in the state in October, with some towns topping four inches or more. With another week to go, and the possibility of more rain to come this week, Spies said precipitation is “about normal” for the month.
“It’s certainly going to help cut the drought for the state,” said Western’s Lessor.
John Mullaney, hydrologist for the U.S. Geologic Survey’s Water Science Center in East Hartford, said the rain did refill the state’s streams and rivers.
“It brought them back into normal range,” he said.
When the rain let up, the streams receded. Mullaney said groundwater supplies weren’t much affected by the rain because the ground has been so dry, it simply soaked up whatever water fell.
State reservoirs, however, may begin to refill again.
Mullaney said that’s because as the days get shorter and cooler, there’s less evaporation. Trees and plants that soak up water are also shutting down. Leaves aren’t catching water, Mullaney said, so there’s more run-off.
David Day, Danbury’s superintendent of public utilities, said the city’s reservoirs are at about 67.7 percent capacity — low, but not dangerously so.
“We’re not in dire straits,” Day said.
“The rule of thumb is that if the reservoirs are full on Memorial Day, we’ll make it through the year,” he said. “We were, this year.”
This is the state’s natural cycle. It’s dry in the summer, with thunderstorms providing the soaking. It’s wetter in the fall. Snow melt and spring rains usually fill its streams, aquifers and reservoirs by May. Then, cross your fingers that things don’t get abnormally dry come summer.
Or worse yet, droughty.