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Severe drought in western and central NY could get worse as drier months approach

U.S. Drought Monitor.
A map of drought conditions in New York State.

Parts of western and central New York, including the Southern Tier, remain in a severe drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. More dry weather could impact the state in the months ahead.

Jim Brewster, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Binghamton, said although the eastern part of New York State received rain this week, the western and central parts did not receive much at all and remain in a severe drought category.

“That means that crop or pasture loses become likely," Brewster said. "Certainly there is a lot of stress on vegetation. There’s the possibility that water shortages will become more common in severe droughts.”

Brewster said water restrictions can be imposed by municipalities. Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow has asked residents to limit water usageas the city’s water storage tank approaches critically low levels. Barlow says residents are using water faster than the city can treat incoming water from Lake Ontario.

Brewster said droughts are fairly rare for New York State. He recalls 2002 as one of the last times there were drought conditions. Some of the worst drought conditions in the state were in the mid-1960s.

Brewster attributed a below average snowfall this past winter to today’s situation. He said snow recharges ground water and surface water systems used in drinking water.

“This part of summer is not our driest period; it’s actually going into September and October where the average rainfall actually drops off," Brewster said. "So, if we don’t catch up here soon, then certainly conditions could deteriorate in terms of water resources.”

Brewster said there are good practices for residents in the affected areas to limit their water usage. He recommends not continually running water when brushing teeth, fix leaks in the house, and to limit car washing and watering lawns.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.