NJ drought conditions could last through winter snowstorms
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows 40 percent of New Jersey continues to face severe drought conditions, while an additional 25 percent of the state is either classified either as abnormally dry or in a moderate drought.
Much of South Jersey is still classified as normal by the report, but it’s possible many areas could soon be listed as abnormally dry.
New Jersey state climatologist Dave Robinson, based at Rutgers University, said the only good news is over the past few weeks we’ve had what is considered to be close to normal rainfall over many parts of Central and North Jersey, and reservoir levels have not dropped.
“We’re at the time of year when things have gotten cooler so the rain that falls doesn’t evaporate much at all. It soaks into the ground and off in to our rivers,” he said.
In order to break the drought, Robinson said we’ll need months of above-average rainfall, but no one really has any idea if that will happen.
“If you look at the National Weather Service outlook for the winter season, they give it equal chances of being above normal, close to normal or below normal in terms of precipitation,” he said.
“And no one makes credible predictions for snowfall totals. Witness last winter where it was just one major snow event that gave us our average winter snowfall, and we received little beyond that.”
He stressed that in New Jersey we can be bombarded by weather systems in all different directions and it’s very difficult to predict what will, or will not happen.
Robinson explained other parts of the country seem to be more directly impacted by either a La Nina or an El Nino event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, but “we’re in between so it’s a tough call.”
“I suppose the good news is no one is of the mindset that we’re going to be much drier than normal this winter, so unfortunately, it’s a a wait-and-see situation.”
He pointed out the most important thing right now is to have a lot of precipitation, whether it’s rain or snow.
“It doesn’t really matter. Even in a snowy winter in New Jersey the bulk of our precipitation falls as rain. I’m talking here about melting down the snowfall into inches of liquid,” he said.
Robinson explained the normal 25 to 30 inches of snow during the winter is equivalent to about 3 inches of rain, and that’s not even an average month of precipitation in December through March.
“I foresee the drought warning remaining in place for the winter season, as we wait to see how much precipitation falls, and how our ground water, our stream flow and our reservoir levels respond to that precipitation.”
Robinson also pointed out “if we were to get twice the normal precipitation for November, December and into January, the drought warning might be dropped. But if we get less than normal rain and snow, state officials could possibly decide to declare a drought emergency next spring. Right now we just don’t know.”
A drought emergency would involve mandatory water restrictions in affected areas.
Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.
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