Western N.Y. Nearing Drought

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Western N.Y. Nearing Drought



t's been the story of the summer: Temperatures way up and rainfall way down, and forecasters aren't ready to write an ending anytime soon. The driest June-July period in 68 years in western New York has given way to an equally arid August, leading the National Weather Service to declare a moderate drought.

The heat has been less discriminating, with normal 70s replaced by 80s and 90s all over New York.

The hot, dry weather has water and air conditioners running nonstop and farmers keeping a wary eye on the sky. Health officials, meanwhile, warn against overdoing physical activity in the ozone-heavy air.

The dryness and heat have been feeding off each other, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Sage.

"All of the energy from the sun is going into heating the air, rather than some of it going into evaporating moisture," said Sage, of the weather service's Buffalo office. "Once you get into a dry situation, you're more likely to get hotter during the days."

The combined rainfall for June and July in western New York measured 2.09 inches, compared with an average of 6.75. There's been no measurable rain in the first week of August.

The dry conditions extend into central and northern New York, where the weather service has termed conditions "abnormally dry," just short of drought.

A high temperature of 93 in Buffalo on Sunday tied a 1947 record for the day.

The best hope for rain, Sage said, will come Friday, when temperatures closer to the normal upper 70s also are expected.

For some farmers, however, it may be too little, too late.

"Really, the damage is done," said Barbara Dygert, who helps run Bippert's Farms in Elma, just east of Buffalo. Corn, beans, peas, tomatoes and squash are all feeling the heat.

The drought is "cutting down the numbers, it's certainly cutting down the quality. ... It's going to get critical unless we get some rain," Dygert said.

Corn stalks are producing smaller ears with a drier, cottony taste, she said.

"The guys that have irrigated, they've irrigated and irrigated," she said, "but it's still not the same." Many are pulling the plug on the costly and labor-intensive irrigation, she said, deciding they will not make the money back in sales.

Grape growers, meanwhile, have been extra diligent in weeding the rows to keep the vines from competing for what little moisture is in the ground, said Tim Martinson, a grape specialist with the Finger Lakes Grape Project.

The Erie County Water Authority was expected to pump more than 100 million gallons to customers for a seventh consecutive day yesterday, a stretch never before seen.

The authority reached the 100 million-gallon milestone for six days straight in 1999. The average for this time of year is 85 million gallons, Executive Director Robert Mendez said.

Original Publication Date: 8/7/01


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 07, 2001

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