16th driest July on record comes in sharp contrast to 2021’s wettest conditions

  • Precipitation totals collected from Greenfield’s Water Pollution Control Plant on Deerfield Street. The blue line represents June and July 2021, while the orange line represents June and July 2022. STAFF GRAPHIC/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2022 8:10:05 PM
Modified: 8/8/2022 8:06:49 PM

In sharp contrast to last July, which was the wettest on record in Massachusetts, drought conditions continue to linger — along with broiling temperatures — in the state over the last two months, affecting farms and leading some towns to issue water conservation measures.

After receiving more than an average of 10 inches of rain across the state last year, Massachusetts had its 16th driest July on record and received less than half of its average precipitation in June, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center of Cornell University. The lack of rain has put Franklin County in a “significant drought,” according to the state’s drought status webpage.

Michael Rawlins, associate director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said two contrasting years of precipitation aren’t concrete evidence of climate trends, but it could be a sign of a warming climate.

“Large swings between wet and dry conditions are thought to be a manifestation of climate warming,” Rawlins wrote in an email. “This change may be related to a warmer atmosphere being able to hold and release more moisture, and alterations to the jet stream that may be contributing to more persistent weather patterns. While no studies have quantified an increase in summer precipitation variability in our area, weather station data point to a recent uptick in year-to-year variability.”

From Greenfield to the Quabbin Reservoir — the Northeast Regional Climate Center separates the county into two portions — Franklin County got just 62% of its average July precipitation, with 2.44 inches of rain. In Greenfield, specifically, approximately 2.95 inches of rain fell in 2022, while 14.72 inches fell in July 2021, according to data collected from Greenfield’s Water Pollution Control Plant on Deerfield Street.

Amid the arid conditions, the region has been battered by several heat waves with temperatures reaching the 90s for days in a row. These conditions are not unique to the Northeast, either, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) drought map has more than half the United States experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions and 43.1% of the country in a “moderate drought.”

The NOAA predicts the drought will persist at least through the month of August, according to its monthly drought outlook map.

As these conditions persist, Rawlins said severe weather is “becoming a common occurrence” with “a frequency that points squarely at a warming world and its associated climate changes.” These changes, he said, won’t just affect summer precipitation, as winters could be severely shortened, causing another host of problems.

“Franklin County and other parts of western Massachusetts can expect to experience additional warming in coming years, as well as a host of other climate change impacts, such as more frequent and severe heat and precipitation events, declines in snow cover and a shorter frozen season,” Rawlins said.

These changes, he noted, are not sudden and there is still a chance to help mitigate future impacts.

“Decades ago, climate scientists produced temperature projections that have proven to be strikingly accurate,” Rawlins said. “We’ve expected rising heat and more extreme weather events. It is imperative that we accelerate the transition to a clean energy society and mitigate future increases in carbon pollution.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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