Water watching: A complex system of predicting weather impacts

Posted 8/24/22

REGION — Ask anyone: It’s been a dry summer. Ask the meterologists, and they will tell you that precipitation has been less than normal, with shortfalls of two to six inches common over …

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Water watching: A complex system of predicting weather impacts


REGION — Ask anyone: It’s been a dry summer. Ask the meterologists, and they will tell you that precipitation has been less than normal, with shortfalls of two to six inches common over the last 90 days. Ask the National Weather Service, and they will tell you that they predict above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the rest of the summer.

The dry weather started in the spring and is beginning to significantly affect other metrics. Stream flows and groundwater levels are well below normal throughout many of the affected regions. Groundwater levels have been declining over the past few months, and they are not expected to improve in the immediate future, due to insufficient rain.

With that in mind, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued an updated drought watch that includes most New York counties, except those located in the Adirondack, Eastern Great Lakes, and New York metropolitan regions. New York State is encouraging residents in affected counties, particularly those dependent on private groundwater wells, to conserve water whenever possible during the coming weeks. This includes Delaware, Sullivan and Orange counties.

A drought watch is triggered by the State Drought Index, which reflects precipitation levels, reservoir/lake levels, stream flow and groundwater levels in the nine drought-stricken regions of the state. Each of these indicators is assigned a weighted value based on its significance for various uses in a region. The index is attuned to the specific attributes of New York and may differ moderately from some national technical drought assessments.

On the Pennsylvania side, the Department of Environment Protection (DEP) has all counties reporting in as normal.

But Pike County is designated as abnormally dry in the drought-monitoring system at www.drought.gov/states/Pennsylvania, which requires careful review of multiple factors or indicators. The four most commonly used indicators are precipitation, stream flow, ground water and the Palmer Soil Moisture Index. Each one provides a small part of the picture but considered together can help a hydrologist understand the severity of drought conditions.

“This year’s below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures continue to combine to exacerbate low stream flows, reduced groundwater levels, and ongoing wildfire risk. DEC will continue to monitor water levels and the environmental impacts of the dry conditions and encourage residents throughout the state to monitor usage and avoid wasting water,” DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said.

An increasing number of water-supply challenges are being reported due to dry conditions. Below-normal precipitation during the last three months, low stream flows and low groundwater levels prompted the need for the expansion of the watch status to ensure adequate public water supplies. Local public-water suppliers are urged to assess the current situation, promote voluntary conservation and take appropriate actions to manage risk.

New York State drought region IIA, which includes New York City and Westchester, remains in normal status due to the satisfactory storage levels and refill probability of the New York City reservoirs. According to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP), the city’s reservoirs are approximately nine percent below normal for this time of year, with 422 billion gallons currently in storage, compared to 469 billion gallons normally.

The U.S. Geological Survey partners in evaluating hydrologic conditions across both New York State and Pennsylvania.

In New York: The four drought stages and what they mean

There are four stages of drought that can be declared in New York State. The drought plan describes the actions to be taken during each drought stage by water purveyors, towns and villages, water authorities and other agencies with water-supply responsibilities.

Drought watch—The least severe of the stages, a drought watch is declared when a drought is developing. Public water-suppliers begin to conserve water and urge customers to reduce water use.

Drought warning—Voluntary water conservation is intensified. Public water-suppliers and industries update and implement local drought contingency plans. Local agencies make plans in case of emergency declaration.

Drought Emergency—The governor may declare an emergency. The Disaster Preparedness Commission coordinates a response. Mandatory local/county water restrictions may be imposed. Communities may need to tap alternative water sources to avoid depleting water supplies, protect public health and provide for essential uses.

Drought Disaster—Disaster plans are implemented. Water use is further restricted. The governor may declare a disaster and request federal disaster assistance. Emergency legislation may be enacted. The state provides equipment and technical assistance to communities.

In Pennsylvania: Drought status maps and news

Drought conditions in Pennsylvania are monitored through various parameters, including precipitation, the Palmer soil-dryness index, surface water flow, and groundwater levels.

Each parameter has an individual indicator for each county. When readings hit a pre-determined trigger level, the indicator is coded as “normal,” “watch,” “warning” or “emergency” for that county. These indicators are used to evaluate the drought status of a particular county; they are not, themselves, drought declarations. Drought watch and warning declarations are determined by the Commonwealth Drought Coordinator and the DEP, with the support of the Drought Task Force; emergency declarations follow a similar process, and are given final approval by the governor.

What’s a water user to do?

To protect water resources, residents are encouraged to voluntarily reduce outdoor water use and follow these tips:

  • Water lawns only when necessary, choose watering methods that avoid waste, and water in the early morning to reduce evaporation and maximize soil hydration;
  • Reuse water collected in rain barrels, dehumidifiers, or air conditioners to water plants;
  • Raise lawn mower cutting heights. Longer grass is healthier, it has stronger roots and needs less water;
  • Use a broom, not a hose, to clean driveways and sidewalks;
  • Fix leaking pipes, hoses and faucets.

For more water-saving tips, click here to visit DEC’s webpage.

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drought, water-saving tips


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