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RI Drought Facts

Drought is a normal, recurrent feature of climate and is characterized as a continuous period of time where rainfall is significantly below the norm for a particular area sufficiently long enough to cause a hydrological imbalance.

Historic Patterns(1)
The amount and the timing of precipitation received are key indicators of impending drought. Under normal conditions, late fall and winter precipitation recharges ground water and stream systems prior to the “green-up” period in April and early May. Drought originates from a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time, usually a season or more. This deficiency results in a water shortage for some activity, group, or environmental sector.

Short Term Drought episodes in Rhode Island usually commence just after the green up period, reaching their greatest intensity during the mid-summer and early fall. The 1985 and 1999 droughts, for instance, were preceded by “above normal” precipitation during the spring that was not sufficient to replenish the deficit from the lack of snow and rain during the previous winter and late fall.

Long Term Drought episodes may involve several seasons and/or years of lower than normal precipitation. The National Weather Service has documented that historical long-term droughts have begun with lower than normal precipitation during the preceding fall and winters and evolved into major drought status in the summer. The amount of preceding fall and winter precipitation is critical to the evolution and intensity of all drought episodes. In each of the five major episodes in Rhode Island’s modern era drought history, precipitation during the preceding fall and winter months was “below normal” to “much below normal” (defined as less than 90 and 75 percent of normal precipitation, respectively). Continued “below normal” to “much below normal” precipitation through spring typically leads to the most severe drought episodes, including the 1965-67 and 1981 droughts.

Drought should be considered relative to some long-term average condition of balance between precipitation and evapo-transpiration (i.e., evaporation + transpiration) in a particular area, a condition often perceived as “normal”. It is also related to the timing (i.e., principal season of occurrence, delays in the start of the rainy season, occurrence of rains in relation to principal crop growth stages) and the effectiveness (i.e., rainfall intensity, number of rainfall events) of the rains.

Meteorological Drought – Based on the degree of dryness (in comparison to some “normal” or average amount) and the duration of the dry period.

Agricultural Drought links various characteristics of meteorological (or hydrological) drought to agricultural impacts, focusing on precipitation shortages, differences between actual and potential evapo-transpiration, soil water deficits, reduced ground water or reservoir levels, and so forth.

Hydrological Drought is associated with the effects of periods of precipitation (including snowfall) shortfalls on surface or subsurface water supply.

Socioeconomic Drought links the supply and demand of some economic good with elements of meteorological, hydrological, and agricultural drought.

Date Area Affected Remarks
1930-31 Statewide Estimated stream flow about 70 % of normal
1941-45 Statewide Estimated stream flow about 70 % of normal-Particularly serve in Pawtuxet and Blackstone Rivers
1949-50 Statewide Estimated stream flow about 70 % of normal
1963-67 Statewide Water restrictions and well replacements common
1980-81 Statewide Groundwater deficient is eastern part of State-Considerable crop damage in 1980
1987-88 Southern Areas Crop damage, $25 million
1998-99 Statewide Groundwater & streamflows about 70% of normal, considerable crop damage

WRB: State agency responsible for the proper development, protection, management, conservation and use of the state’s water resources for water supply purposes.

  • Overseen by a 15-member board of directors appointed by the Governor
  • Conduct scientific, engineering and planning studies
  • Require comprehensive water supply system management plans to be completed by public water suppliers
  • Development of a new groundwater supply in the Big River Management Area, a 6,400 acres (15 square mile) of land owned by the state.
  • In the process of buying land in south county to preserve sites for future water supplies.
  • Also fund the development of emergency interconnections between water suppliers

Drought Management and Monitoring

  • Drought Steering Committee
    • Includes state agencies, National Weather Service, US Geologic Survey, EPA, USDA, local water suppliers, environmental groups
  • State divided into 7 Drought Management Area
    • Northwest, Northeast, Central West, Central East, Southern, Eastern and New Shoreham (Block Island)
  • Five levels of drought
    • Normal, ADVISORY, Watch, Warning and Emergency
  • Drought Indices tracked every month
    • Rainfall
      • October about 55% of normal rainfall
      • Last four months about 50 – 70% of normal dependent on where you are in state (down about 6 inches from normal)
      • Year: only down two inches
    • Groundwater levels
    • Streamflow levels
    • Reservoir levels
      • Newport reservoirs very shallow
      • PWSB Scituate System deep
        • presently at 71% full
        • 273.48
        • Capacity is 284

WHY CONCERNED NOW:

  • The fall and winter is the time of recharge of the state reservoirs and groundwater
  • Other significant droughts on the East Coast, the worst being in Georgia

WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO NOW

  • Be mindful of their water use
  • Be more efficient in their water use
  • Assess their water use practices, water system and appliances
    • Don’t run the water continuously when brushing your teeth
    • Check for leaks in your system – It’s easy to do
      • Toilet – dye tablets in tank
      • Read water meter
    • Don’t wash the sidewalks and driveways – get a broom.
    • Run dishwashers and clothes washes with a full load, make certain that wash settings are set properly to minimize water use
    • Shorten your shower time (a 10 minute shower could use between 30 and 50 gallons)
    • Plan for the spring
      • Water your grass and plants only once a week
        • You only need one inch per week, have it coincide with the day your garbage is picked up
      • Check your lawn irrigation system (BIGGEST USE IN SUMMER)
        • Install a moisture sensor
        • Install a timer.
        • Hand water instead
      • Buy a rain barrel and recycle roof drainage
    • Businesses should check their plumbing systems as well
    • Restaurants can minimize water use by not provide a glass of water unless a patron requests it.
    • Obtain an indoor retro-fit kit for your home from your local water supplier.

(1) Excerpts with permission from The Development Of A Drought Management Plan For Rhode Island; Including An Analysis Of Local Drought Characteristics, Dellicarpini, Joseph W. and Vallee, David R., NOAA/National Weather Service Forecast Office, Taunton, Massachusetts; Farley, Corey A., Lyndon State College, Lyndonville, VT 05851. Graphics pertaining to precipitation, snowfall, and temperature departures are available at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/er/box/RIdrought_plan.htm