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A new report finds much of New Jersey is drought-free

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We had a significant snow and rain storm across the Garden State last week, but the New Jersey Department of Environmental protection has not changed any of its drought warnings or watches in central and north Jersey — yet.

A drought warning remains in effect for Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.

However the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report for New Jersey shows 43 percent of the state (southern and coastal) is now classified as being drought-free, while only 6 percent of northern New Jersey is still listed as being in a “severe drought” situation.

The U.S. Drought Monitor report takes into account several hydrological indicators, including soil moisture and stream flow variability. The DEP reviews drought indicators including reservoir levels in New Jersey, as well as stream flow activity, groundwater levels and precipitation, all factors that influence reservoir levels.

“This is definitely good news but we can’t get too excited because all it takes is a prolonged dry spell at the wrong time of year and we can quickly move back into drought conditions,” said Tony Broccoli, a professor of atmospheric sciences and chairman of the Department of Environmental Sciences School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.

He pointed out last week’s storm, though inconvenient, brought a significant amount of rain to the southern part of the state and that helped alleviate drought conditions in that area.

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said most reservoirs are in good shape because demand for water has been down for months, “but that demand will increase in the coming months and we’ll need to review the indicators at that point to see if any changes are warranted.”

Broccoli agreed that at this point taking a wait-and-see approach makes sense.

“All it would take is a couple of dry months during the summer when temperatures are higher and water use is higher, evaporation is higher, and we can see a problem again,” he said.

He said  over the next few weeks there is a potential for above normal precipitation in New Jersey, which is good news, “but of course there’s a big difference between a forecast and what really happens.”

“The forecast looks optimistic, but we’ll have to see if Mother Nature delivers on those promises,” he said.

He said it’s important to keep in mind “we’re probably better at predicting the direction our temperatures will take as opposed to how much rain we’ll get. With rain so much depends on individual storms, and how much rain they deliver in a particular location.”

Broccoli said there are indications weak El Nino systems could be forming in the Pacific Ocean, which could bring New Jersey and the rest of the East Coast above-average precipitation, but that pattern will not take shape until next winter.

“We’re really looking pretty far into the future when we’re talking about what may happen next winter, on the basis of a projection that has yet to materialize,” he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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