The truth about 3 impacts of dry weather

About the drought

Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly evident that New Jersey’s long stretch of abnormally dry weather is beginning to take its toll.

Earlier this week, I ran through all the latest numbers in a special drought update. As of this writing, 12% of New Jersey is officially classified as “moderate drought,” with an additional 57% of the state’s land area designated as “abnormally dry.”

MORE: How dry is NJ now and how worried should you be?

In summary: there is no need to panic at the moment, but we are on the verge of the impacts of the drought.

This article does not go into the details of our running script. Instead, I want to focus on a few “what ifs” – looking mostly at worst-case scenarios. It is important to note that drought is usually a long-term spiral – more of a “climate event” than a “weather event”. However, these impacts can happen suddenly and the effects can vary in severity depending on the specific location.

So let’s do it. The traditional trio of precarious drought impacts are: water, fire and earth.

Water: hydrological impacts

When the weather dries out, 9 million New Jersey residents quickly get thirsty.

OK, that’s incredibly dramatic. But when drought is imminent, many immediately think of water levels and impending restrictions. (Although available drinking water is probably the least of our drought concerns.)

let’s check New Jersey Reservoirs.

This chart shows the average level of 12 separate NJ reservoirs with a combined total water capacity of 70.6 billion gallons. (NJ DEP)
This chart shows the average level of 12 separate NJ reservoirs with a combined total water capacity of 70.6 billion gallons. (NJ DEP)

The situation is certainly not yet serious. The red dots indicate the observed water level. It tends towards the long-term average (the gray line with yellow dots). However, we do not operate with excess or buffer.

New Jersey American Water, the state’s largest water company, has already proactively requested voluntary water conservation in seven New Jersey counties.

If the dry weather continues and reservoir levels reach critical levels, these restrictions are likely to expand. and become mandatory.

Such rules will not only affect lawn watering and car washing, but also the recreation and transportation industries. A very distinct memory I have of New Jersey’s last major drought in 2002 was the huge fountain at Six Flags Great Adventure (among other things) turned off for the summer. We are coming to the end of the summer season, but in the worst case, the filling of swimming pools and water slides can be strictly controlled.

In the event of extreme drought, the lakes can dry up so much that boat traffic becomes impossible. And the weather companion of drought – heat – can also affect road conditions and railroads.

Fire: impacts of forest fires

The Unholy Trinity of Wildfire Danger: Low Humidity + Strong Wind + Dry Fuel = Explosive Wildfire Growth

It is this last piece of the puzzle that becomes more important during a drought. And it doesn’t even have to be a total drought for dry brush to become highly flammable. (Or flammableif you prefer.) The Pine Barrens cover more than a million acres of New Jersey – 22 percent of the total area of ​​the state. A small spark in the middle of a drought can quickly turn into a disaster.

If conditions become dry enough, fire and forestry officials may limit campfires and any outdoor burning. (No such restrictions are in place at the time of this writing, according to the NJ Forest Fire Service.)

NJ’s latest fire danger dashboard (as of Wednesday 8/3) places only Middlesex and Monmouth counties at “high” wildfire risk. (New Jersey Forest Fire Department)
NJ’s latest fire danger dashboard (as of Wednesday 8/3) places only Middlesex and Monmouth counties at “high” wildfire risk. (New Jersey Forest Fire Department)

Of course, if the water supply becomes limited due to lack of rainfall, available water can become a problem for firefighting efforts. It’s been a very real struggle for the western states of the United States over the past few years. While it’s hard to think of the same dramatic fires here in New Jersey, the danger is very present during dry spells.

Land: agricultural impacts

This is the category that your dormant brown lawn and your withering, shedding trees fall into.

Much more importantly, New Jersey more than nine thousand farmers and growers begin to sweat as the drought becomes more and more imminent and severe. The “Garden State” looks less green with each passing dry day.

As you would expect, in times of drought, water availability quickly becomes an issue for irrigating crops and hydrating livestock.

A 2-inch map of soil water content, represented as a percentile relative to the entire United States. The soil in the “moderate drought” zone of central NJ is very dry. (National Soil Moisture Network/Ohio State University)
A 2-inch map of soil water content, represented as a percentile relative to the entire United States. The soil in the “moderate drought” zone of central NJ is very dry. (National Soil Moisture Network/Ohio State University)

According to Drought.gov. Even insect behavior changes during prolonged dry spells.

Keep in mind that we have big crops coming up in New Jersey as summer turns into fall, including corn, grapes for wine, apples, cranberries, pumpkins for Halloween and evergreen trees for Christmas.

Any challenge in the farming world will absolutely impact your family’s wallet. As product availability decreases, prices increase. And that’s on top of an already strained supply chain and an inflationary economy.

In conclusion

According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)drought was directly linked to 650,000 deaths worldwide from 1970 to 2019. And drought caused global economic losses in the order of $124 billion from 1998 to 2017.

Clearly, New Jersey is better equipped against the impacts of drought than third world countries, for example. But still, if we’re talking about the worst-case scenarios of a real drought-induced “natural disaster” – the purpose of this article – we have to consider the potential death toll and the dollar toll.

My goal in writing about drought is to keep you informed and educated about our growing drought concerns in the Garden State. No more no less. We will continue to update you as our drought status is improved and/or downgraded. Thanks, as always, for following.

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Dan Zarrow is chief meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow Dan on Facebook Where Twitter for your latest weather forecast updates.

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