New England Drought, 2020

Science Center Objects

Below average and infrequent rainfall from May through September 2020 led to an extreme hydrologic drought across much of New England, with some areas experiencing a flash (quick-onset) drought.

2020 drought impact on Segreganset River near USGS station 01109070, Dighton, Massachusetts

2020 drought impact on Segreganset River near USGS station 01109070, Dighton, Massachusetts. (Credit: Casey Beaudoin, U.S. Geological Survey, New England Water Science Center. Public domain.)

The abrupt change in precipitation from at or above average in early May to as much as 4 in. below average in September 2020 and the resulting precipitous declines in streamflows and groundwater levels have been characterized as a flash drought (reflecting its quick onset) at some locations in New England, including northern Maine, southeastern Massa­chusetts, northern Rhode Island, and northeastern Connecticut. The 2020 drought rivaled other historic droughts, including those in 1995 and 1998–2002, in terms of intensity and geographic effects. Although streamflows and groundwater levels began to recover in October and November 2020, full recovery will depend on precipitation during the coming winter and spring.

Working within the constraints of strict travel restrictions, technicians and scientists collected more than 350 additional field measurements to define stage-discharge relationships and ensure accurate data for decision makers; held or attended 26 virtual meetings for drought committees to discuss hydrologic conditions with Federal, State, and local partners; and brought drought-related expertise to the public through 15 media encounters.

Please check the “2020 drought in New England” publication for more info.