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Here are the four stages of drought classification

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However, moderate drought is actually the lowest-tiered version of drought in a four-step classification system.

A drought in Atlantic City, which averages roughly 46 inches of water a year, looks and feels different than a drought in Salt Lake City, which averages less than half that. However, in all cases, drought, and the stage of drought, is a calculation that has to do with the amount of precipitation that’s fallen, the strength of streamflows on the waterways, soil moisture, reservoir levels and more.

The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies drought in four stages, based on a numbering system from D1 to D4, D4 being the most intense.

Moderate drought (D1)

At this point, the growth of crops is stunted, or planting is delayed. Wildfire danger is elevated as grasses and lawns brown early. Fish get stressed as well.

In New Jersey, this occurs every five to 10 years on average.

Here’s a look at the four stages of drought in the United States. Meteorologist Joe Martucci explains in depth moderate drought, severe drought, extreme drought and exceptional drought.

Severe drought (D2)

To get to a severe drought, the region usually is in moderate drought for a few weeks and the situation has not gotten better. Crop or pasture losses are likely and water shortages are common, according to the Drought Monitor. Golf courses will conserve water. Fish start to die and wildlife move to farms for food. Water restrictions are usually imposed.

As of April 2022, the last time this happened in the state was October 2016 to March 2017. The whole state was in severe drought for part of April and May 2012.

Coming off a record warm March that year, the whole state went through five weeks of such conditions.

Extreme Drought (D3)

While 0.01% of the state reached these conditions in November and December 2016, the most recent larger-scale event was in September 2010, according to the Drought Monitor. Then, roughly 27% of the state was in extreme drought. According to Press archives, Atlantic County officials recommended that boaters on Lake Lenape reduce their speed to 5 mph and exercise caution to avoid underwater hazards because the lake was so low.

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Major crop and pasture losses are also seen in this stage of drought. Water restrictions are usually mandatory, and reservoirs run very low. People might start to dig deeper wells. Outbreaks of disease in wildlife are seen.

Exceptional Drought (D4)

The most intense of droughts. Widespread crop and pasture losses occur. Forests turn into tinder boxes in some states. Policy change is needed to conserve water, according to the Drought Monitor.

This is rare, maybe occurring once or twice a century in New Jersey, according to the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist. Since records started in 2000, only one week had D4 conditions in the state. That was in far southwestern Cumberland County — Stow Creek and Greenwich townships, along with the Salem County bayshore.

2002 Drought

James Schollenberger and his daughter, Julie, 14, take away northern white cedar trees that died from lack of water related to a 2002 drought from near their home off New Road in Linwood.

It was one of the worst droughts in South Jersey’s recorded history.

Abnormally Dry Conditions (D0)

The Drought Monitor also has a pre-drought stage known as abnormally dry conditions, D0, to alert us of potential drought. D0 typically occurs every two to five years. Going into drought, it means short-term dryness, slowing planting or crop growth. Coming out of drought, there are still some lingering water deficits.

The Drought Monitor was created in 1999, produced jointly by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Maps with the stages of drought come out on Thursdays. However, it is based off data and observations that are compiled two days before, on Tuesday.

The maps’ national authors take recommendations at the state level for a “boots on the ground” approach to what is actually happening. In New Jersey, the major recommendation comes from the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist. Other recommenders are the National Weather Service in Mount Holly along with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Contact Joe Martucci: 609-272-7247 Twitter @acpressmartucci

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It's great to forecast for you in N.J., where I was born and raised. I earned my degree from Rutgers and have been at The Press since Fall 2017. I'm honored to be a 10 time N.J. Press Association award winner and a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist.

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