This year's drought might spark reminders of 2012's flash drought that overtook much of the U.S., including the Northeast. The 2012 drought was also kick-started by warmer-than-normal temperatures in late winter. But for New England, it had dissipated by summer.
In comparison, this drought didn't really get started until summer, but warmer-than-normal temperatures at the hottest time of the year have allowed it to flourish.
"At this point the drought of 2016 has not lasted as long as the drought of 2012. However, this year's drought has been more intense," Fenimore said.
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Though the drought really intensified this summer, New England has been running a precipitation deficit all year. Many spots have seen just 50 to 75 percent of their normal precipitation for the year-to-date.
Massachusetts and the rest of southern New England would need up to 9 inches of precipitation over the next month in order to drag the region out of drought.
There's no relief that large-scale on the horizon, though Fenimore said that a tropical storm or hurricane could quickly erase the rainfall deficit. The best chance for the region was Hermine, but the storm looks likely to stay offshore, only bringing showers and moderate rain to Cape Cod, Rhode Island and parts of southeast Massachusetts.
Farms in the Northeast have already suffered this summer and leaf peepers could be next. In the driest areas, leaves might just turn brown and fall off while in moderate dry areas, the colors could be dialed back a bit from their usual technicolor display. Dry conditions could also expedite the start of foliage season, according to boston.com.
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Not all trees are being affected by drought equally, though. Neil Pederson, a tree ring expert at Harvard University who has been tracking the drought closely, said black birch and red maple trees are already showing signs of stress while others could follow if the lack of rain keeps up.
While the drought is extreme in the present-day sense, the bigger picture shows that New England has dealt with longer, more persistent droughts before. In fact, New England has been in a particularly wet period since the 1960s. But multiyear droughts lurk in the tree ring record around New England and could again be an issue for the region in the future.
"The larger context is that this drought falls on a long upward trend in moisture availability over the last few thousand years and a 'pluvial' or generally wet conditions since the end of the 1960s," Pederson said. "We've been dry here since July 2015; we are moving into substantially drier conditions. Projections call for an increase in precipitation in the future, but that warming in the summer might overwhelm this increase."
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