Drought worsened across many parts of the U.S. in September, and the NDMC added 166 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter. Although rains fell in Texas, improving the drought status, lingering impacts still allowed the state to accrue the most impacts, documenting ongoing agricultural concerns as conditions improved. Texas led the U.S. with 23 impacts, while New Hampshire, Colorado and Massachusetts followed with 21, 18 and 16 impacts, respectively, as drought worsened in those states.
Texas drought eased, but agricultural impacts lingered
Much of Texas was in some level of abnormal dryness or drought at the start of September, but bountiful rain throughout the month left drought confined to roughly the western third of the state by the end of the month. At the beginning of September, stressed pecan trees in central Texas were dropping nuts after a dry summer; pastures were dry in west central Texas, leading producers to sell cattle; water quality was poor in east Texas ponds; oat growers in south Texas were awaiting rain before planting; and in far west Texas, reservoirs were not being replenished, causing concern about the next growing season, according to AgriLife Today. Toward the end of the month, supplemental feeding was decreasing in some areas that received rain, while in the driest areas, like far west Texas, pastures remained very dry with no forages, as reported by AgriLife Today.
New Hampshire crop losses, depleted water supplies, burn ban
The summer drought presented immense challenges to New Hampshire agriculture and water supplies, particularly in the southern reaches of the state. Some crops could not be saved this year, despite irrigation, because drought was too intense, reported a farmer in Hooksett in southern New Hampshire, per WMUR-TV ABC 9 Manchester. Hay production suffered, as well, being down by 50 percent, leaving one livestock producer wondering where he will find hay to sustain his herd through the winter, as reported by Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.
Water supplies were dwindling and wells were running dry, prompting New Hampshire officials to warn people with wells to carefully watch their water use as more than 100 people reported problems daily with their wells, as reported by WMUR-TV ABC 9 Manchester. Well drillers were busy and have backlogs on drilling new wells of 6 to 12 weeks or more. As of Sept. 21, more than 150 local water systems had mandatory limits on water use, mainly in Rockingham County, per New Hampshire Public Radio. Only Coos County in the north had no mandatory restrictions.
Some southern New Hampshire fire departments had trouble with water access for firefighting, according to WMUR-TV ABC 9 Manchester. New Boston firefighters had to get water from a nearby town for firefighting as New Boston’s 32 cisterns were not refilling quickly enough. Rivers were too low to be of any use, and some fire departments had to purchase water from swimming pool companies to refill tanks. In addition, the drought meant that fires were burning deeper into the ground, making them more difficult to extinguish.
As drought increased the fire danger in the Granite State, Gov. Chris Sununu banned burning debris on public property, most campfires and smoking near public woodlands on Sept. 25, as reported by New Hampshire Public Radio. Violators may face fines of up to $1,000 and have to bear the cost of fighting any fires they may spark.
Colorado ag challenges, statewide burn ban, request for emergency relief
Extreme drought expanded to cover most of western Colorado in September, affecting agriculture and wildlife and increasing the fire danger as several large wildfires burned during the month. In northeast and east central Colorado, livestock producers continued to offer supplemental feed to their herds because there was little grazing, as reported in The Prowers Journal. Dryland crop failures increased and producers sold calves early and pulled stock off of summer grazing at the start of the month.
Gov. Jared Polis extended the Colorado fire ban through the month of September as drought intensified and fires continued to burn, per The Lamar Ledger. Some of those fires included the Pine Gulch fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado history, which charred more than 139,000 acres north of Grand Junction after it was sparked by a lightning strike on July 31, according to InciWeb. The Cameron Peak Fire in Larimer County was another massive fire that blackened more than 127,000 acres, as of Oct. 6, per InciWeb.
As drought worsened in Colorado, with an area of exceptional drought appearing in the western part of the state, Gov. Polis expanded the second phase of the state’s drought response plan to all counties, as reported by Colorado Public Radio. A drought task force will assess initial damages and drought impacts and make recommendations on mitigation measures. Polis also requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide emergency relief for Colorado producers because they endured financial losses.
Massachusetts drought declaration, wildfires
Massachusetts remained in a level 2 drought after the declaration was initially made in August after months of below-average rainfall and intense heat. The declaration was reaffirmed in September, per WBUR-FM Boston Public Radio. Residents across the state were urged to continue conserving water and to be aware of the fire danger.
Drought also led to an uptick in wildfires. Massachusetts has had more than 1,000 wildfires in 2020, compared to 2019 when there were just a little over 250, or 2018 when there were just over 1,000 fires for the entire year, according to WesternMassNews.com. Two wildfires in Massachusetts burned for about a month before being extinguished, amid an unusual fire season for the state, per WBUR-FM Boston Public Radio. There is concern that fall leaves will add to the fuel for fires.
As extreme drought was introduced to and expanded in southeast Massachusetts, agricultural concerns grew. Fruits such as peaches and apples were smaller in eastern Massachusetts, as reported by The Harvard Press. Some cranberry growers in southeastern Massachusetts did not have adequate water supplies to protect their cranberries from frost or even to be able to harvest, according to Sippican Week. Bogs must be flooded so the berries release from the vines, but some growers did not have the water.
Dry wells in Maine, crop losses, fewer insects and related diseases
The hot, dry summer in Maine took a toll on water supplies. The Maine Emergency Management Agency offered a Dry Well Survey in August and received reports of dry wells in Somerset, Waldo, Sagadahoc, Penobscot, Kennebec, Franklin, Knox and Washington counties, per Portland Press Herald. The survey covered dug and drilled wells used for residential, irrigation, livestock and other purposes. Toward the end of September, survey respondents reported 92 dry wells across the state, with only Piscataquis County having no dry wells, as reported by WCSH-TV NBC 6 Portland.
Various crops were affected by the hot, dry summer in Maine. The wild blueberry crop was likely halved from the five-year average of 84 million pounds, due to a late spring frost, a summer-long drought and coronavirus issues, according to the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, per Central Maine. Pasture growth stopped, leaving some livestock producers to purchase hay for the animals, as reported by The Ellsworth American. Newly planted Christmas trees near Cape Elizabeth also succumbed to the droughty summer, per WCSH-TV NBC 6 Portland.
One perk that Mainers experienced was that there were fewer insects, as reported by WMTW Portland. The preliminary case count of Lyme disease through Sept. 7 was 626, far below the 2,167 cases reported in 2019. There were similarly fewer cases of anaplasmosis and babesiosis, also tick-borne diseases. Fewer mosquitoes were caught in traps over the summer. Other parts of New England, such as Vermont and New Hampshire, were also finding fewer ticks and mosquitoes. In Vermont, insect counts were down about 42 percent, compared to 2019. No cases of West Nile virus or eastern equine encephalitis were reported in Maine or Vermont through Sept. 14.
Drought designations in Connecticut, water restrictions, crop losses
As drought continued to worsen in Connecticut, the state Interagency Drought Work Group met and designated all counties, except Fairfield, as being in Stage 2 drought, according to Hartford Courant, with state officials urging residents to conserve water.
Water supplies in Connecticut, as in many parts of the Northeast, were becoming depleted at the end of the summer, and numerous communities were asking citizens to conserve. Connecticut Water asked customers in Clinton, Guilford, Madison, Old Saybrook and Westbrook to curb water use by 10%, due to drought, according to NBC Connecticut. The water provider issued a drought advisory for its Connecticut shoreline customers in response to dry weather and increased demand. Some domestic wells were low or running dry, and well drillers were struggling to keep up with demand for service, per WFSB-TV CBS Channel 3.
Crops were affected by the dry summer, as well. Soybeans did not sprout in Tolland County for lack of moisture and had to be replanted, per NBC Connecticut. Second and third cuttings of hay were less than half the usual yield. Ninety percent of pastures were in very poor to poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per Harford Courant. Dairy farmers were seeking to purchase corn feed for their cattle as yields were down, due to the lack of rain.
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