Any discussion of drought over the last year has tended to focus on the western U.S., but over the past few months, a quieter drought has been building in parts of the Northeast and Southeast, particularly in New England and northern Georgia.

Three months ago, only 8 percent of the Northeast was in a moderate drought. That number has swelled to 39 percent in the most recent Drought Monitor, released on Thursday. While rain did come to parts of southwestern Massachusetts and Cape Cod earlier this week, Boston largely missed out on a big soaking, only getting about a third of an inch of rain. The last time Boston received more than a quarter-inch of rain was more than a month ago, on Aug. 13 (it recorded 0.34 inches).

drought in the northeast

3-month change in the United States Drought Monitor for the Northeast.

Meteorological summer, the period from June through August, brought 3.92 inches of rain to Boston. That’s only 38 percent of the rainfall the city usually sees over that period. September has also been dry, with less than an inch of rain falling through Sept. 22.

The effects are becoming more noticeable. Just west of Boston, large areas of dry ground have started to appear at the Cambridge Reservoir, and officials in nearby Worcester restarted an emergency connection to get water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton started to ramp up water conservation efforts, declaring that “the elimination of outdoor watering by residents and businesses around the state is needed to avoid stressing drinking water reservoirs, which will ultimately exacerbate the situation.”

In the Southeast, Atlanta had 76 percent of its normal rainfall from June through August.  Nearby Lake Lanier has fallen steadily all summer. After the lake started the year at a surplus level of 1,075 feet, it has dropped 10 feet.




A photo posted by Katie Walls (@katiewallswsb) on


WSB-TV meteorologist Katie Walls illustrated the levels at Lake Lanier from January to August on her Instagram feed. The lack of rain in other parts of the state, particularly northern Georgia, has expanded the extent of extreme drought.

According to one of Walls’ reports earlier this month, cattle ranching in north Georgia has already been affected. Many ranchers have been forced to incorporate hay into their animals’ diets months earlier than normal, and the amount of hay available to them has decreased because of the drought.

One rancher she interviewed only got about two-thirds of the hay he would normally get from the season’s first cutting, and his normal second cutting never came. Additionally, one of his springs stopped running last month, so he is working with his county government to extend water lines to keep his cattle hydrated.

Aside from a few showers in the next few days, no significant rain is forecast for at least a week, in either Boston or Atlanta. According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC), the next couple of weeks are likely to be warmer and drier than normal — ideal conditions for expanding and worsening the drought.

fall temperature trends

While climate change does not cause droughts, it can make them worse, as a warmer atmosphere leads to more evaporation from soils.

And fall is getting warmer across most of the country, with the Northeast and West showing some of the highest rates of warming in the U.S. since 1970. The longer outlook for this fall from the CPC is for near normal or less than normal rainfall in the eastern U.S., so there is a real chance that the drought will expand and intensify in the region over the next couple of months, meaning more water restrictions could be just around the corner.