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Record July rainfall affecting farms, forestry, recreation in the Upper Valley

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    Marisa Lorenzo, of Norwich, left, watches her daughter Mia, 6, right, swim as her son Theo, 8, gets a lesson from instructor Tess Allen at the Storrs Pond pool in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, July, 29, 2021. It was their second rainy swim lesson this week at the pool. "We teach no matter what the weather is doing, as long as ther is no thunder or lightning," said Missie Rodriguez, the water safety director, not pictured. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Swim instructor Tess Allen, right, teaches a swim lesson for Mia Lorenzo, 6, of Norwich, left, despite the pouring rain at the Storrs Pond pool in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, July, 29, 2021. The pool does not cancel lessons unless there is thunder or lightning. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/29/2021 9:39:33 PM
Modified: 7/29/2021 9:39:37 PM

STRAFFORD — In June, as they dealt with a persistent drought, Ben and Hillary Minerd installed an extensive irrigation system on their Strafford farm.

Then, earlier this month, as days of heavy rainstorms drenched the pastures at Winding Brook Farm, they lost at least two of their lambs to parasites, forcing them to move their remaining lambs down from the damp hills and into their barns where they can be dewormed regularly.

“It’s not necessarily a 100% correlation between the two, but we’ve had abnormally high worm and parasite issues, and that’s linked to heavy rains,” Ben Minerd said.

The irrigation system has gone unused, with nature having provided all the rain they could need, and more, waterlogging their raised beds and preventing them from tilling the soil.

“It has probably affected the vegetables the most. It makes it really hard to tend them,” Minerd said.

The Minerds are not alone. Many other Upper Valley residents, from loggers to summer camp directors, have also been whipsawed by the weather this summer.

Justin Arnott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said that New Hampshire has seen record rainfall for the month. In Concord, where the NWS maintains a climate monitoring location, the month-to-date rainfall had climbed to 11.26 inches by Thursday, well above the previous 10-inch record for July.

Lebanon has seen 9.47 inches this month to date, according to an Accuweather that doesn’t include Thursday night’s rainfall. That’s in contrast to the city’s normal 3.75 inches in July. Lebanon is also above of the norm in precipitation for the year, with 23.83 inches as compared to an average of 20.95.

After the extended drought, Arnott said that all the rain has done is erase the region’s precipitation “deficit.”

“The heavy rainfall has been somewhat isolated, really, in the southern half of the state. It doesn’t need more rain. More rain is actually not a good thing,” said Arnott.

Arnott said that the region falls on the “battleground” between humid air to the south and cooler, drier air to the north. “On dividing lines, along fronts, that’s typically where we get precipitation. ... You don’t have to go far to find people who want rain,” Arnott said.

Northern Coos County is still in a moderate drought, and western Grafton County is still abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor Index.

Climate scientists predict heavier rains in the Northeast in decades to come, but Arnott said that there is “not much that you can draw” from just one month of data. He hesitated to say that the record rain this month is part of a longer-term trend related to climate change.

“If you’re expecting a climate (that’s) warmer, more humid, you have the ingredients that would make for heavy rainfall,” Arnott said.

Farmers in the Upper Valley on Thursday said that they are hoping for a dry, warm August, but Arnott said forecasts show a “coin toss.” Maybe the rain will keep falling; maybe it will give way to the warm, dry conditions.

George Miller, who cuts and bales hay in Hartford, has seen a slow month for his crop.

“Right now, we have had a hard time drying any. We baled some last Saturday for the first time in three weeks,” Miller said.

“We have some left of the first crop to cut. The quality will be pretty poor,” he added. However, each field is different, and on some fields he predicts that he will even be able to make a fourth cut. Overall, he said, conditions are an improvement over last year, when the drought limited growth. He said prices never came down after hay shortages last year.

Farmers are not the only ones to struggle with the heavy rain.

Markus Bradley, a forester at Redstart Natural Resource Management in Corinth, said that it’s “pretty difficult” to log in these conditions.

“There’s an occasional site that’s really sandy or well-drained, but most logging sites will have a bottleneck somewhere,” he said. Loggers who were interviewed described how wet roads can block equipment and muddy forests can prevent logging.

“The previous decade, honestly, especially the first part of the summer, has been getting very wet. On average, it’s been getting wetter in June and July and drying out later in the summer,” said Bradley. He has been working in the Northeast’s forests for 23 years.

Not only is that hard for the logging industry, but those conditions also hurt forest health.

Although extreme dryness can be “really scary,” excessive moisture comes with its own problems. He has seen more and more incidents of needle cast fungi on softwood trees, including spruce and pines.

Sam Lincoln has about 20 years of experience in the region’s forests. He is a farmer, but he also operates a timber harvesting business in Randolph Center.

“We’ve spent I don’t know how many days this month just fixing the trails or doing maintenance on them,” Lincoln said.

Installing waterbars and drainage ditches protects water quality and prevents erosion and also prevents trails from getting muddy and slowing logging crews.

However, he said Thursday was only the fifth day that he has been able to take out his logging crews since July 1. In his experience, conditions are usually this muddy only in the spring and fall. He said the industry could be “on the edge” of a timber shortage if wet conditions continue.

“This is definitely a pretty frustrating and discouraging situation,” he said. “(Logging) is totally weather-dependent. ... You do your best to plan around it, but you just have to grit your teeth and get through it.”

Other Upper Valley residents have been doing their best to prevent the heavy rains from getting in the way of their summer plans.

Scott Hausler, the director of the Hartford Parks and Recreation Department, said that reservations at the town’s parks for bandstands, pavilions, athletic courts and spots on open lawns have doubled to nearly 200.

“It has been extremely busy for us. Our parks have not been this busy since I’ve been here,” said Hausler, who has been at the department for about seven years.

The department is adapting to what the weather brings, moving summer camps inside where children spend more time on arts and crafts and indoor sports.

Meanwhile, the maintenance crews have their own predicament: Some lawns they’d normally mow once a week are growing so fast that they need to be mowed every other day.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.




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