NEW JERSEY 101.5

Following months of significantly low rainfall, the northern quarter of New Jersey has entered a “moderate drought” stage, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The middle third of the state has been flagged as “abnormally dry.”

The immediate concern of a rainfall shortage is the threat of brush fires. (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

“If you go back across the northern half of the state, particularly in the northeast, there’s been about two inches of rain, or a little less than two inches of rain in the last 60 days, at a time when they normally get about eight, eight-and-a-half” explained Dave Robinson, the state climatologist at Rutgers University. “So we’re talking about 25 percent of normal precipitation the last two months.”

Last month, New Jersey experienced its fifth-driest October on record.

With that, the amount of groundwater has declined, stream levels are running lower, and the region’s reservoir levels just fell below where they should be this time of year.

Robinson noted droughts during the colder months can be “sneaky,” as New Jersey residents have no immediate need for heavy water supply, and seeing brown grass isn’t as telling as it would be during the summer.

While the effects mentioned above wouldn’t start becoming a problem for another few months, the immediate impact is the threat of brush fires. Autumn is one of the peak fire seasons in New Jersey, and a lack of rainfall doesn’t help.

“We have leaves falling off the trees, which allows the sun to penetrate right down to the ground and dry those leaf fuels out,” said Greg McLaughlin, division forest fire warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. “We have to pay attention at this time of year.”

McLaughlin said humans can also add to the fire danger. In colder weather, more people are using their fireplaces and dumping out “some ashes that they think may be cool and they’re not.”

The fire can smolder overnight and become a real problem when the sun comes up in the morning.

A passing shower or two wouldn’t reverse the drought declaration. Robinson said New Jersey needs to see “a couple inches of rain, several times.”