Over my first three years in Vermont, I’ve seen an incredible variety of weather.
I’ve witnessed severe thunderstorms, large hail, and nighttime lightning that lit up the sky like a flash bulb; watched the heaviest single-storm snowfall on record pile up in Burlington; and hid in a storm shelter as Irene sent the Middlebury River flowing down East Main Street in East Middlebury. I witnessed the wettest and second snowiest year on record, and experienced temperatures ranging from -26 to near 100 (f). The one prominent thing I hadn’t seen? An extended period of dry weather.
Now we’re getting one. The incredible heat wave of last month is only a memory, and we are back to more typical spring temperatures. We’ve also had occasional storms have brought rain and snow to the area... but they just aren’t dropping all that much precipitation. I set up a rain barrel during the March heat wave, which usually fills up during any normal-sized storm, and when I tipped it over in advance of colder temperatures returning it was only a third full. Since that time we’ve only had light dustings of snow and drawn out but insubstantial waves of drizzle. In the Champlain Valley, there is almost no mud - nearly unheard of this time of year - and even in colder, wetter parts of the state mud season has largely been a no-show. Meanwhile, the Middlebury River is running low, and the sight of large exposed areas of rock reminds me of some of the washes and seasonal streams back in California.
Exposed rocks near the Middlebury River
According to the National Weather Service, Burlington has had only an inch of precipitation since March 1st (snow is measured in melted-down liquid form). This is under half the normal amount of precipitation for this time period. The long-term computer models don’t show any signs of gullywashers or late blizzards, and at best we will pick up a bit more drizzle or a dusting of high-elevation snow over the next week. The difference between last spring and this spring is immense.
As of right now, farmers won’t be planting any time soon, trees haven’t leafed out, the sugaring season is over, and groundwater supplies are still copious from last year’s soakings. The only impact thus far has been increased fire hazard. If the dry conditions continue further into the spring and summer, however, we may be facing a drought. My guess is it won’t be a particularly severe one, because Vermont seems to be moving into a wet period in terms of long-term climate. Still, it could potentially pose problems to farmers and to rural residents with shallow wells.
Then again, things could change fast. It would only take a couple waves of early-season thunderstorms to reverse our dry trend.
In any event, I can remove dry weather from my ‘life list’ of Vermont weather events. There is something else I still haven’t witnessed - a severe ice storm - but I’d be happy not to experience one any time soon.
Charlie Hohn is a recent graduate of the UVM Field Naturalist graduate program. He has been closely watching the weather ever since he was a child in southern California. Charlie will be posting occasional blog posts here about Addison County weather. He also maintains a blog about water at slowwatermovement.blogspot.com.