Long Island in first severe drought warning since 1999

04/15/2012 9:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A severe drought on Long Island hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for farms.

If the giant wildfire in Manorville, Ridge and Calverton last week didn’t hint at this, the National Weather Service will tell you outright.

Long Island is currently in a severe drought warning.

According to the NWS’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a severe drought warning is third most severe condition, with exceptional and extreme droughts being the two harshest, followed by moderate and abnormally dry.

The dangers of severe drought are described as follows by the U.S. Drought Monitor: “Crop or pasture losses likely; fire risk very high; water shortages common; water restrictions imposed.”

But for Long Island, this is the first time since August of 1999 that we’ve been in a severe drought situation, according to NWS meteorologist Mike Layer.

In August 1999, the area was in an exceptional drought warning, he said.

There are other indicators as well.

For the period from January to April 13, NWS’s rain gauge at Islip measured 5.22 inches of rain. That’s the lowest reading ever for that same time period, Mr. Layer said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor makes its drought ratings weekly each Thursday, so that rating applies to what’s already happened, Mr. Layer said.

However, what’s predicted to happened doesn’t indicate much difference.

“Over the next week, it doesn’t seem like much will change in terms of precipitation,” Mr. Layer said.

There is a possibility of rain Sunday for part of the day, but only about a tenth of an inch, Mr. Layer said.

“After that, we’re expecting warm and dry conditions until at least mid-week,” he said.

Aquebogue farmer Lyle Wells said the drought works out pretty well for his farm, and is much better than the wet conditions that existed at this time last year.

“Without the wet fields, we’re able to plant seeds and don’t have to worry about them rotting in the fields,” he said. “As long as you’re set up with irrigation, this is preferable.”

Most farmers get all the water they need from irrigation pumps, he said, so the lesser amounts of rain aren’t a problem.

He said it’s even “pushed up the season by a week or two.”

Of course, if the lack of rain continues for a prolonged period, that could eventually cause problems, he said.

“Everything in moderation,” he said. “Last year we would have loved for the rain to stop.”

tgannon@timesreview.com