NJ Drought (Or Not) Over the Past 14 Months

Dr. David A. Robinson
New Jersey State Climatologist
Center for Environmental Prediction, Cook College/NJAES, Rutgers University

September 24, 2006

New Jersey is fortunate to have received sufficient precipitation over the course of the past 12 months, thus there has not been a major drought episode since 2002. This is not to suggest that the Garden State has not had several drought scares of late. One only has to go back to late September 2005 to see the state on the brink of a drought emergency. A record warm summer and record dry August-September interval drew down the state reservoirs from a normal 80% of capacity on August 1 to a 20% below normal capacity of 50% on October 1. These reservoirs provide a large majority of the citizens of this most densely populated state with their water. An emergency declaration was avoided (hearings were already scheduled and were held) by a record wet October. In fact the 10th month of 2005 was the wettest of any month on record (back to 1895) in NJ.

A 2005/06 winter of close to average precipitation was followed by a record dry March and sub average April and May. With renewed drought concerns, the state’s drought task force met in May to evaluate the situation and begin considering actions that might need to be taken should the dry conditions continue into the summer. Good fortune would strike again, as June was the 5th wettest on record and July totals were above average.

The month of August began with extreme heat and a virtual cessation of precipitation. By the 24th of the month only approximately 0.75” had fallen across the state, and with this “flash drought” in progress, the state record dry August total (0.90” in 1963) looked to potentially be in jeopardy. However the last week of the month brought approximately 2.50” to the state, along with cooler temperatures. This was followed a week later by rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto, bringing us to the present with a September total that will be at least an inch above normal, even should the last week of the month be rain free. Thus we enter the fall with ground water, stream flow and reservoirs at or somewhat above normal seasonal levels.

(This report was prepared for a US House of Representatives Science Committee staff briefing regarding the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) legislation presently being considered (in the Senate also). The NJ State Climatologist is a member of the NIDIS steering committee.)

Past Climate Summaries