PROVIDENCE, RI ( Associated Press) — Vermont farmer Brian Kemp is used to growing pastures at Mountain Meadows Farm in hot, late summer, but this year the grass is at a standstill.
When you’re grazing 600 to 700 cattle, it’s “very nerve-wracking,” said Kemp, who manages an organic beef farm in Sudbury. He describes the recent season as inconsistent and impressive, which he attributes to the changing season.
“I don’t think that’s any normal anymore,” Kemp said.
The effects of climate change have been felt throughout the northeastern US due to rising sea levels, heavy rainfall and storm surge flooding and coastal erosion. But this summer has brought another extreme: a severe drought that’s leaving lawns crunchy and farmers begging for more rain. Sometimes the heavy, small rain brought by a thunderstorm does not get absorbed in the ground, it gets carried away.
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Water supplies are scarce or dry, and many communities are restricting the use of non-essential outdoor water. Fire departments are combating more brush fires and crop failures.
According to the National Weather Service office in Norton, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, received less than a half-inch of rain in the third-dryest July on record, and Boston had six-tenths of an inch in the fourth-dryest July. The governor of Rhode Island issued a statewide drought advisory on Tuesday with recommendations to reduce water use. The northern end of Hoppin Hill Reservoir in Massachusetts is dry, leading to local water restrictions.
Maine officials said that the drought conditions really began in 2020, with areas improving occasionally since then. In Auburn, Maine, local firefighters help a dairy farmer fill a water tank for his cows when his well went too low in late July and the temperature reached 90. According to the state’s drought, about 50 dry wells have been reported in the state since 2021. Well surveyed.
Climate scientist Michael Mann said the continuing trend toward dry summers in the Northeast can certainly be attributed to the effects of climate change, as warmer temperatures lead to evaporation and drying of soils. But, he said, the dry season can be punctuated by extreme rainfall events because warmer environments hold more moisture – more in short bursts when conditions are conducive to rainfall.
Mann said his research at Penn State University provides evidence that climate change is leading to a “stuck jet stream” pattern. This means that jet streams, or vast streams of airflow, become trapped in place, locking in extreme weather events that can alternately be associated with extreme heat and drought in one place and extreme rainfall in another. , a pattern that has played out this summer with heat and drought in the Northeast and extreme flooding in parts of the Midwest, Mann said.
Much of New England is experiencing drought. The US Drought Monitor released a new map Thursday that shows areas of eastern Massachusetts outside Cape Cod and much of southern and eastern Rhode Island now in extreme, rather than severe, drought.
New England has experienced severe summer droughts before, but experts say it’s unusual to have a fairly rapid drought since 2016. Massachusetts experienced drought in 2016, 2017, 2020, 2021 and 2022, which is very likely due to climate change, said Vandana Rao, director of water policy at Massachusetts.
“We expect this is probably a period of drought reaching its peak and we are back in many more years of normal rainfall,” she said. “But this may just be the beginning of a longer trend.”
Rao and other water experts in New England expect the current drought to last for several more months.
“I think we’re probably going to be in this for a while and there’s going to be a lot of it,” said Ted Dyers, assistant director of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ water division. “What we’re really expecting is a wet fall after a very snowy winter to really recharge the aquifers and groundwater.”
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Rhode Island’s chief forest ranger, Ben Arnold, is concerned about the drought spreading in the fall. When people do more yardwork, burn brush, use fireplaces and spend time in the woods, the risk of wildfire increases. Arnold said the fires this summer have been relatively small, but they take a lot of time and effort to put out because they are burning in dry ground.
Grass farmer Milne Adams said the powder is a foot down one of the fields he’s cultivating in Exeter, Rhode Island. In earlier years it rained in spring. This year, he said, the dryness began in March, and April was so dry that he was terrified of his first cut of grass.
“The grass had a height, but it did not have a volume. From there, we got a little rain in early May, which exacerbated it,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything since then.”
Adams said farmers are fighting more than the drought — inflation is driving up the price of everything from diesel and equipment parts to fertilizers and pesticides.
“It’s all through the roof right now,” he said. “It’s just throwing salt on a wound.”
Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbets said the yield and quality of hay in Vermont too is low, meaning there won’t be as much for the cows in the winter. There are about 600 dairy farms in the state, a $2 billion per year industry. Like Adams, Tebbets said inflation was driving up prices, which would hurt farmers, who would have to buy fodder.
Kemp, president of the Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition, is grateful to have received supplements from last year, but he knows other farmers who don’t have land to reserve and aren’t well-stocked. The alliance is trying to help farmers grow and learn new practices. He added “climate-smart farming” to his mission statement in the spring.
“Farming is challenging,” Kemp said, “and it’s becoming even more challenging as climate change takes place.”