Heavy rains last Thursday night ended the Island's long stretch of rainless weather, and even more precipitation arrived in the form of showers yesterday.

Last Friday morning, the Vineyard community awoke to the first evidence of significant rainfall all summer. There were puddles on roadsides, and some dirt roads appeared washed out by the flash of heavy rain.

The National Weather Service cooperative station in Edgartown recorded .87 inches of rain in less than two hours. The last time the Vineyard received comparable rain was in late spring - June 15, when the Island saw .80 inches.

It has unquestionably been one of the driest summers on record. In July, the Vineyard received only .40 inches of rainfall. Including last week's significant shower, the total for August was 1.12 inches.

The dry conditions caused plenty of problems. The Oak Bluffs Water District imposed a water ban. Farmers never got their summer crop of hay. Without irrigation on gardens and fields, many plants wilted and died. Grass turned brown and stopped growing. There were concerns of fire, and in fact several brush fires were reported in all three down-Island towns.

The most recent comparable year was 1968, when there were .31 inches of rain in July and 1.98 inches in August.

There was another dramatic difference about this summer versus years past. The thermometer at the cooperative weather station rose to 90 degrees at least eight times in July and August.

Over 56 years of collecting weather data, it was traditionally an unusual year when the temperature reached 90 degrees even once. The fact that the Vineyard hit 90 degrees as many times as it did makes this summer one of the hottest.

The highest recorded temperature this year was 95 degrees and was recorded on July 30. The highest recorded temperature ever at the Edgartown station was 99 degrees, in 1948.

The temperature was 80 degrees or higher for 17 days in July and another 20 days in August, a heat wave that created problems for Island emergency medical staff.

"We have not had a lot of heatstroke emergency calls," said Joan Condlin, a captain for Edgartown's emergency medical services, "but we have had medical calls that were precipitated by an underlying dehydration problem.

"The elderly and the young are susceptible to heat and dehydration, particularly children," she added. "If they have run a small-grade fever, sometimes when the fever spikes they can get a febrile seizure."

"I don't know anybody who has gone through a summer like this," said Laurie Eagan, director of the Edgartown Council on Aging. She said that she and her staff checked in on over 100 senior citizens over the summer to make sure they were okay with the heat, and in some cases gave out electric fans.

The Old Farmer's Almanac earned some credibility this year with its forecast for southern New England. "The summer will be cooler and wetter than normal in the north but hot and abnormally dry in the south, threatening a severe drought," it says. "Expect occasional heavy rain in the north in June and July. The hottest spells in the south will occur in mid and late June and mid and late July. August will have little rain and no excessive heat."

The forecast for the rest of the season is good, the almanac forecasts: "September and October will be warmer than normal. The south will continue to be dry until heavy rains come in early October."