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Red flag warning, drought and cooler temps

Posted by David Epstein  March 23, 2012 11:12 AM

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Records were smashed all across the northeast yesterday as the peak of the March heat passed over New England. Portland, Maine hit a record high of 82°F setting a new daily record and the earliest 80°F degree temperature ever on record. Boston hit 83°F and broke their record by 11°F degrees. While this weather has been fantastic, there are several drawbacks we should at least be thinking about. All this dry weather has forced a a red flag warning to be issued for much of Vermont, into New Hampshire and northeastern Massachusetts. This means critical fire conditions will be prevalent all day today in these areas.

Drought

Currently, the southeast part of Massachusetts is in a moderate drought while the entire state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. This is, of course, the result of a lack of snow and rain for the past several months. Normally, Boston would have had nearly 10 inches of rain or melted snow since the first of the year. This year we are at only 4.77 inches or about 50% of normal. Worcester is running about 30% behind their normal precipitation and Providence is approaching a 50% deficit. As you can see from the map below, we are still a couple of stages away from a major problem, but to be this dry this early, isn't good.

drought.jpg

La Nina/El Nino

One of the many factors in producing this abnormally dry and mild period has been a persistent La Nina. La Nina is cooler than average ocean temperatures off the coast of South America in the Peru area. Forecasts are for this La Nina to continue to weaken over the next month. This trend will bode well for an increase in rainfall as we head into the second part of spring and summer. It doesn't mean a wet summer, it just may mean we are not so dry.

While this is good news, it will still be several weeks before a new pattern can take hold and there is much uncertainty with this type of forecasting. Right now, the climatic data center is forecasting about a 57% chance that we will have normal or above normal rainfall in the May-July time period. However, that means there is still a 43% chance of below normal rainfall. (see the image below, its a bit statistical.) You might be laughing thinking, someone actually get paid for that job, but it's especially important for agriculture to begin to get a handle on future precipitation and temperatures.

rainfall.jpg
Fire danger
All across the northeast the dry weather is creating high fire danger. Whether or not there is a warning for the dry conditions or not, it's extremely important to be careful when using any flame outside. Until the new vegetation really starts to grow all the dead leaves and twigs make for a big fire issue. Even if we get some rain, it will be weeks before the fire threat is lessened.

Plants and the warm weather

Remember it is still the end of March. Although we have not had a winter, we still will have several more frosts and freezes especially outside the city. I expect even Boston will go below 32F one or two more times. The garden centers do have some cold weather flowers and vegetables for sale and it's OK to plant them now. However, I would not put out your houseplants for the summer or start seeds of warm weather crops like beans in the garden. The soil is going to cool back down and seeds will rot in cool weather. If you want to get a jump start on the vegetable garden you can plant the following seeds in pots or the ground now. Carrots, lettuce, arugula, bok choy, radish, peas, and fava beans. You can also probably put out seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage. If you see the temperature dropping under 27F, use a sheet to cover the plants. Check out the video below to learn more.

Weekend weather
Today is going to be a great day with highs in the 70s and sunshine especially in the afternoon. More clouds will be around Saturday but it will still be mild with highs into the 60s. Although Saturday's afternoon temperatures will be 20 degrees cooler than today they are still well above normal. On Sunday, we may see a few rain showers and it will feel more like March with temperatures in the 50°F range. Have a great weekend.


Follow me on Twitter at @growingwisdom and check out my latest videos at GrowingWisdom.com

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. David spent 16 years at WCVB in Boston and currently freelances for WGME in Portland, ME. In 2006, More »
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