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Drought in Northeast Could Be a Lot Worse


Gregory J. Rummo

IN LATE AUGUST, state officials in New Jersey re-imposed water restrictions as Part Two of the ongoing twenty-plus month drought began across much of the Northeast. We are not the only ones suffering. A recent trip through the Midwest revealed mile after mile of parched fields filled with yellowing corn on Missouri farms.

Fortunately, generous precipitation fell across much of our area from April to June, refilling virtually every reservoir to the brim or we would really be in serous trouble by now.

But brimming reservoirs only tell half of the story. The rest of the plot is revealed as one walks through the woods and discovers that many of the wetlands have become dry. It is here that the dearth of precipitation, reflected in the diminished ground water, hits home.

As a frequent hiker through the lower highlands, one of my favorite treks is a seven-mile walk from Pyramid Mountain in Morris County back to my house. A portion of the trail takes me through Bear Swamp, a verdant wetlands supporting many species of flora and fauna including ferns, wildflowers, salamanders, turtles and wood duck.

By late August, instead of a brown-stained swamp with a small creek flowing into and out of it, there was only mud in some places and no water in the creek bed.

The lack of moisture has also caused many of the trees to drop their leaves prematurely, carpeting the dry trails with layers of yellow and green. They are sad remnants of the rapidly thinning deciduous canopy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is not offering any immediate hope that the situation will improve.

NOAA’s seasonal drought outlook, updated August 15, states: “With some 50% of the contiguous United States suffering from drought in mid-August, the latest seasonal drought outlook does not offer much hope for major improvement over coming months.”

“The drought should persist from northern South Carolina to southern New England… [and] is expected to expand into upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania. The reason that drought is expected to persist across this region is that the latest official CPC seasonal outlook calls for below-normal precipitation during September-November from the Carolinas into southern New England.”

It’s time to get a grip.

I don’t mean to minimize the drought’s effect on farmers who make a portion or all of their living by growing and selling crops. But what we are calling a drought here in America cannot be termed a drought in comparison to what other parts of the world have had to endure in the past or are currently facing.

In order to gain some perspective, consider that portions of Africa are currently facing the worst food shortage in a decade.

Hardest hit is the country of Zambia where this year’s drought, occurring during a critical part of the growing season for corn, has devastated more than 60 percent of the crops.

The August 24 issue of WORLD Magazine reported “Almost the entire African region has been hit by the worst food shortage in a decade. Over 12 million people in six countries need relief aid.”

“The World Food Program estimates Zambia will need almost 200,000 tons of food to last until March 2003, when the next harvest is expected. Right now the agency only has enough food to last through this month.”

Last time I checked, the produce shelves at our local food store were filled with green heads of lettuce and ripe, red tomatoes. The meat counter was loaded with chicken, pork and beef in various cuts. There was plenty of milk, eggs and bread. The only complaints I heard were from people who had to wait in line.

None of us are starving — not even close to it.

While we need to continue praying for an end to the drought, along with those prayers, we need to add a note of thanksgiving.

It could be a lot worse.

Gregory J. Rummo is a syndicated columnist and the author of “The View from the Grass
Roots,” available from Contact him through his website,

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