Vineyard surprised by ‘significant’ drought

National Weather Service says the Island has received below normal rainfall amounts, but not by a huge amount.

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The Islands are considered by the state to be in a significant drought. - Courtesy Massachusetts department of Energy and Environmental Affairs

A lack of rain over the fall has led the state’s environmental affairs department to issue a drought advisory for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Rebecca Tepper announced on Wednesday that the Islands are in a significant drought, or a level 2 drought.

“After receiving record rainfall in Western and Central Massachusetts this year, one thing is clear — no two regions are the same. We have declared a drought in the Islands because the area has not replenished its groundwater sources, unlike the rest of the state,” Tepper said. “Drought conditions have lasting impacts. It will be difficult to return to normal conditions as we experience more frequent, longer droughts. We encourage everyone to do their part and be mindful of water use.”

The state recommends minimizing water use on the Islands.

According to the National Weather Service, the Vineyard has received below average rainfall amounts in the fall, and for the year in general, although not by a huge amount. Since collecting data starting in 1998, weather service data shows this is the sixth driest year on record.

A weather station at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport recorded 1.68 inches of rain in October, compared to the average of 4.37 inches; for November this year, the Island received 1.07 inches, compared to an average of 3.96 inches. And so far in December, there’s been 1.5 inches so far. The average for December is nearly 4 inches.

The airport weather station recorded 35 inches of rain so far this year, compared to the yearly average of 42 inches.

The state doesn’t just calculate rain amounts when considering drought conditions. In Wednesday’s announcement, Tepper said that groundwater levels haven’t fully recovered from previous droughts. Much of the state experienced a critical drought in the summer of 2022.

Oak Bluffs assistant water superintendent Greg Dankert said that the notice from the state yesterday was surprising, considering that it has felt like a damp summer. The water department will make an announcement asking users to conserve water, but Dankert said they are far from panicking. They already have a voluntary watering ban in place.

Dankert would be concerned if the drought continued into the spring and summer, when the demand for water increases dramatically with homeowners irrigating their lawns, and more users in their system. He said they aren’t taking action other than letting their customers know about the drought.

Reached on Thursday, Lucy Grinner, program coordinator with the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, says that they have not heard from Island farmers about a lack of water. Grinnan said that most farming is indoors at this point in the season. “Fields on the island are normally cover-cropped by now, with the exception of garlic, which is pretty hardy, and most animals are getting off pasture just about now anyway,” Grinnan said. “The 2023 season was, if anything, very wet and cloudy—a lot of vegetables came in pretty late, but the pastures were thriving.”

6 COMMENTS

  1. That is a very short time period they are going by and does not talk about the water table depth at all. That is more important than having low rain fall every 4 years or so by there charts. I have been told the water table is huge and would be interested in knowing where we stand with supply and demand.

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