It is incredibly dry. How dry? Last month was the driest September on the Vineyard in 67 years of record keeping.
Foliage is turning brown. Lawns are amber and leaves and grass crunch underfoot. Fire has become a concern.
Yesterday, while responding to a mid-day small brush fire in the woods near Sweetened Water Farm in Edgartown, fire chief Peter Shemeth called for mutual aid from West Tisbury.
“It is awfully dry and there is nothing you can do about it,” confirmed West Tisbury fire chief Manuel Estrella.
Total September rainfall at the National Weather Service cooperative station in Edgartown was .31 inches. That makes the month the sixth driest month on record since the cooperative station was started and managed by Henry Beetle Hough in 1946. The average for September on the Vineyard is 3.56 inches.
Martha’s Vineyard appears to be an island with respect to the dry spell. Bill Simpson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said there has been plenty of rain in the rest of New England. In fact, Cape Cod has received more than its usual share.
“Sandwich got almost five inches of rainfall within three hours,” Mr. Simpson said, referring to an early September storm. “Once the storm got south of the Cape, there was moisture that just didn’t hit the ground,” he added.
“It is terrible,” said Allen Healy, owner of Mermaid Farm in Chilmark. “I am feeding the cows hay when they should be out eating grass. My pastures aren’t growing. I am trying to get a cover crop and I might lose my window to get it started.”
Mr. Healy said he can’t remember a drier autumn, though he said he can remember a drier period, one that lasted 90 days. “I think seven years ago we went 90 days without rain,” he said.
Despite the recent dry spell, the Vineyard aquifer is in good shape as there has been plenty of rain this year. Bill Wilcox of West Tisbury, a former water resource planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, has been regularly monitoring the aquifer since 1975 by measuring water depth in the wells. There are several wells on the Island but a key one in the state forest reflects the health of the Vineyard’s overall source for water.
“We are almost two feet higher than we were last year,” Mr. Wilcox said.
John Varkonda, superintendent for the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, noted that the freshwater pond near his office is another indicator of the groundwater level. “Little Pond is still rising,” he said. “There is usually a several months lag time. The pond is getting deeper.”
But not every pond on the Vineyard is doing well. Sweetened Water pond, which is located on the side of Edgartown/West Tisbury Road, is not much bigger than a puddle. And brush fires do remain a concern.
“We are looking forward, in the firefighting business, to a long duration rain event,” said Dave Celino, Chief Fire Warden for the State Department of Conservation and Recreation. Mr. Celino noted that the Vineyard and Nantucket, along with the Cape, do have the benefit of a higher level of humidity because of the ocean.
But he added, “We know Martha’s Vineyard has a history of large fires going back hundreds of years. And that is why at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest we have those buffers. We have tried to make it easier and safer for the fire departments to fight a fire.”
At the state forest there is a large sign which indicates the level of fire danger. It has read “high” for weeks. Mr. Varkonda said: “Now, I keep my radio with me . . . I just have to be vigilant.”
Looking ahead the forecast calls for a small amount of rain today and the remnants of a tropical storm growing in the Gulf of Mexico could bring rain later in the coming week. But at press time, the sun was still shining brightly.