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It's official, WNY... we're in a drought

United States Drought Monitor

The summer of 2016 has been a dry one so far in Western New York. As of now, a vast majority of the region is categorized as having "moderate drought" conditions. And in spite of rain forecast for this weekend, it appears Western New York will remain dry most of the summer.

The United States Drought Monitor, a partnership which includes the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, updated its report on conditions nationwide Thursday morning. With the exception of a swath of land in southern Chatauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties, Western New York is now officially in a moderate drought.

John Hitchcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo, says the USDM designates drought status after looking at several factors, including differences from normal rainfall totals over several months. As of this week, Western New York was more than six inches below usual rainfall totals.

Hitchcock noted that the Niagara Frontier was already under "moderate drought" conditions last week but the USDM has expanded that to cover most of Western New York.

"It's been several years since we've had a dry spell like this, but this is not that uncommon," he told WBFO. "We typically have a drought here every four or five years.

"It's fairly early in the year, though, so there is potential for this drought to get worse than it is now as we go through the summer."

Hitchcock pointed out that these droughts tend to follow "El Niño" periods, buildups of warm water in the Pacific Ocean. The latest El Niño officially ended in May and was, according to the NOAA, one of the strongest on record.

Showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast for Western New York both Friday and Saturday. Hitchcock says it will only bring short-term relief for lawns and crops.

"Even if we do get some locally heavy rain it will only help for a few days and help the short-term soil moisture," he said.

Meteorologists expect dry conditions will continue through the end of summer.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.