Rainy relief for abnormally dry conditions could be on the way this weekend

While other parts of the country have been stricken with severe drought, Massachusetts has seen months of dry weather — and that makes the rain expected this weekend a welcome relief, a National Weather Service expert said.

Nicole Belk, a hydrologist for the agency, said “significant precipitation” might fall Friday and Saturday. She is hopeful that the showers and thunderstorms will bolster the state’s rivers and streams, which have suffered because of dry conditions this summer.

The dry weather began during the first few months of this year, but reservoir levels were able to remain in a normal range thanks to large amounts of rain from previous storms, including Hurricane Irene, she said.

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Precipitation for July was as much as 2 inches below normal in some parts of the state, Belk said. River and stream conditions also varied across the state, with the worst conditions in Western Massachusetts.

Conditions vary across the state because recent showers and thunderstorms have dumped buckets of rain on some areas while completely missing others, she said.

The lack of rain isn’t the only culprit, Belk said. Temperature is also to blame. Massachusetts residents have endured hot weather recently, with the mercury climbing 2 to 4 degrees higher than it has in years past. The heat tends to increase evaporation, stealing more moisture from the already dry region, she said.

While government officials have not officially declared a drought for Massachusetts, Belk said many communities issue seasonal water restrictions in response to dry conditions, and urged residents to “heed the advice of local officials.”

Some states use data collected by the National Drought Mitigation Center based at the University of Nebraska to determine whether to declare a drought.

Based on indicators including precipitation level and stream flow, the center has classified conditions in Western and Central Massachusetts as a moderate drought and conditions in the eastern part of the state as “abnormally dry.”

Despite such dry weather, Massachusetts has had it easy compared to other parts of the nation, specifically the Midwest and Southwest, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the center.

“For the most part, the Northeast has not seen the same level of dryness or drought that the rest of the country has,” Fuchs said.

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