UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The first quarter of 1969 was the only one in Pennsylvania since 1895 drier than the start of 2009, according to Penn State weather and precipitation experts.
The winter of 2008-09 was a dry one, according to Bryan Swistock, Extension water resources specialist in the College of Agricultural Sciences, who attributed the lack of precipitation in most parts of the state to a La Nina weather pattern.
Dry trend continued
The dry trend has continued into the spring.
Droughts in Pennsylvania are rarely statewide. The southern tier of the state, eastern Pennsylvania and the Poconos region have been extremely dry, and those areas already are starting to see low groundwater levels indicative of a hydrologic drought.
“In contrast, northern and western Pennsylvania are in a less precarious situation and precipitation rates are fairly normal in those regions,” Swistock said.
Mercer County, bordering Ohio, is the only entire county currently averaging above normal precipitation for 2009, said Paul Knight, Penn State climatologist and meteorology instructor.
Other western counties, such as Crawford, Venango, Butler, Lawrence and Erie, all have measured near normal for rain and snow so far this year. Meanwhile the rest of the state has been waiting for rain.
Regular rainfall over the last several weeks has helped to ward off a serious drought, agree Penn State experts, but the precipitation has done little to make up for the deficits.
April is critical
The month of April is going to be critical in combating drought conditions, Swistock noted.
“So far April has been fairly close to normal, with a pattern of routine precipitation,” he said. “The problem is an existing 4- to 6-inch deficit, so an average amount of rainfall will not make up for the year’s dry start.”
If weather records are any indication of what’s to come, the state might be in for more dry weather in the next few months, Knight pointed out.
“It should be noted that six out of the 11 driest first quarters in Pennsylvania have had below-normal rainfall during the heart of the growing season,” he said.
May be different story
But given past trends, several months down the road may be a different story.
“The last five years beginning with similar dry spells have all seen above-average rainfall later in the year, being particularly wetter in July and August,” Knight added.