Portions of Northeast, Midwest at risk of 'flash drought'

Abnormally dry conditions during the month of May have placed portions of the Northeast on the brink of a "flash drought."

Just as the name suggests, flash droughts are bouts of short-term drought conditions that are fueled by lower-than-average rainfall, abnormally high temperatures, strong winds and increased sunlight.


These elements have been brewing across the Northeast, with the driest areas in eastern Pennsylvania. This area, AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda said, is "at the greatest risk of a flash drought, as these are areas that can get quite hot in the summer months."

Allentown and Reading, Pennsylvania, along with Binghamton, New York, are a few cities that experienced abnormally dry conditions throughout May. All received less than an inch of rainfall, respectively.

Of the three, Binghamton received the highest rainfall total -- a staggering 0.71 inches, a full 18% of the city's normal 3.92 inches. Allentown had only 6% (0.24 inches) of its normal rainfall (3.79 inches). Reading only had 0.09 inches of rain throughout the month, amounting to 2% of its normal 3.67 inches of rain.

The heat and lack of rainfall "combined with the fact that the next several weeks will feature the most intense solar energy of the year, puts this area at particular risk for a flash drought to form," Sojda said. "This area is also not forecast to get much significant rainfall for at least the next couple of weeks."

Even with some localized showers and storms in the forecast for the area this week, Sojda said it likely wouldn't be enough to stave off a significant impending drought threat.

A glance at the percent of normal rainfall that the Northeast and Midwest have seen during the month of May. The darker red areas show the lower percentages, which are mostly centered around eastern Pennsylvania. (NOAA/Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service)

Conditions associated with flash droughts also come into play during heat waves, as the same pattern that causes the dryness and the lack of rain also produces heat, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek explained.

"Heat will breed drought and drought will breed heat," he said.

Cities in the Midwest have seen similar dry conditions, with the lack of rain across Illinois, Iowa and Indiana placing the region at risk of experiencing a quick-hitting drought, AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor reported. In Chicago, less than an inch of rainfall fell over the past month, making it the second driest May on record for the city.

"The upper five, six, seven inches of soil is rapidly drying out, and that's one of the first clues to the potential for a flash drought," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson told Victor.

A little to the north in Lower Michigan, Cadillac, Ludington and Manistee all reported between 15% to 25% of normal precipitation since May, according to Sojda. However, he added that most of the rain fell during the first couple of days in May with very little rain in the areas since then.

Additional reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor.

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