A month ago, Island farmers were complaining that it was dry. Now, halfway through August, it is even drier - so much so that Vineyarders are looking for new superlatives to describe the arid conditions.
The Cape and Islands led the state in rainfall earlier in the year. But on Wednesday, the state announced that because of lack of rainfall the region had moved from a drought advisory to a drought watch.
If August remains as dry as it has been, a new record will be set at the National Weather Service cooperative weather station in Edgartown. While the Vineyard has had dry summers in the past, there have never been two consecutive summer months with so little rainfall.
July rainfall at the cooperative station totaled .40 inches, and so far this month, the Island received only one rainfall of .12 inches, on the morning of August 6. Average rainfall for July is 2.63 inches; August typically receives 4.43 inches.
Water superintendents for the three down-Island towns report that the aquifer is still in good shape but that monitoring must continue. There is more concern about the quantity used than the quantity available.
"We are holding our own," said Fred Domont, water superintendent for Edgartown. "So far we haven't broken any records, but it's close. In July, Edgartown water department customers went through 68 million gallons of water. Their peak water-use day was 2.6 million gallons, on July 4.
"This is the first summer we have had to rely on all four of our pump stations to meet the demand," he said. "In the past we have had more of a reserve. My biggest problem is rust complaints. . . because of the high volume of water being pumped."
"We have plenty of water in the aquifer, though we are seeing the observation water well at a 20-year low," said Deacon Perrotta, water superintendent for the Oak Bluffs Water District. "Our problem is that we do not have enough wells to pump water fast enough. We pumped 2.51 million gallons one day in Oak Bluffs," he said.
Oak Bluffs is the only town with a mandatory water ban. The odd and even-day system allows residents to use sprinklers every other day depending on their house number.
Mr. Perrotta is also the water superintendent for Tisbury. "We have broken two million gallons in one day in Tisbury only once this summer," he said. "That is why we are professing ‘conserve, conserve and conserve.'
"We are cautiously keeping an eye open," he added. "Every day I wake up I wish it was raining like hell. We need some steady drizzling rain. . . like we used to have in the summer."
William Wilcox, water resource planner for the Martha's Vineyard Commission, said: "We have had some shifts in the climate, and all our averages, maximums and minimums, are starting to change in terms of rainfall. The shift is to lower numbers. The water table is a reflection of the rainfall during the preceding year. I think we are hitting new low levels in the aquifer."
Mr. Wilcox monitors a number of wells around the Island, with particular interest in an observation well in the center of the Island at the state forest. "In the last week of July, the well level measured 13.2 feet above sea level," he said.
While the level has been lower in the past, he said, it is unusual that it is so low in July. "We are well below the [monthly low] for the 10-year period, which was 13.9 feet," Mr. Wilcox said.
Levels sometimes fall below 13.2 feet, but generally not until November, December and January, Mr. Wilcox said. "We are now setting up ourselves for the possibility that we will have even lower water levels this fall and winter when we normally hit our lows.
"Barring some kind of monsoon rainfall from tropical storms that will recharge the aquifer," he added, "it looks like a low stand in the water table this winter."
The state fire tower is manned, according to John Varkonda, superintendent of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. "Most of the fires called have been called in by third parties," he said.
The impact of the dryness has been significant for farmers who don't have irrigation. While it is typical for farmers to get a second hay crop at this time of year, the grass is just stationary.
"I think it was drier in 1988. I don't remember much rain at all in 1988," Mr. Varkonda said. "It is dry. People should exercise all caution and use common sense. I really want some rain. We need a week of rain. You know how people will pray for September, I am praying for September rain.
"I am starting to see some drought-related stress on the trees in the state forest," he added.
On any drive along up-Island dirt roads, the dryness is obvious. All the foliage growing along the side of the road is coated by a thick layer of road dust. Unwatered brown lawns and pastures are readily visible from all Vineyard roads.
According to a joint press release from the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and state emergency management agency, Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts have been shifted to drought watch.
"Fire danger is a significant concern for the southeast and Cape Cod and Islands region of Massachusetts," it said. "In addition to being drier than normal, the current heat wave is causing increased fire danger levels, particularly in the coastal regions of the state. Also, the availability of surface water sources to extinguish fires is decreasing."
Not only has the summer been dry, it has been hot, too - one of the hottest on record. Since continuous record keeping began at the Edgartown cooperative station in 1946, the temperature has rarely hit the nineties; it is an unusual summer when the temperature hits 90 degrees once.
This year the thermometer at the weather station has hit or exceeded 90 eight times already - five times in July and three times in August. On July 31, the temperature reached 95 degrees - the highest temperature since 1964. The highest recorded temperature onIsland was 99 degrees in August of 1948.
Mr. Wilcox has been using an electric fan at night to get to sleep. "Every time I wake up I think I am hearing it rain; the sound is like steady rain," he said. "But it's the fan."