Rainstorms that crossed the Island last month were exactly what the Vineyard needed. After a September that was the wettest month of the year so far, lawns are once again lush and plants are looking healthy.
According to rainfall data collected at the National Weather Service cooperative station in Edgartown, the total rainfall for the past month was 6.15 inches. The Vineyard hadn't seen that much rainfall since the 6.11 inches that fell in August of last year.
But the Vineyard water table is still running at a deficit, according to Bill Wilcox, water resource planner for the Martha's Vineyard Commission. While the September rainfall was much needed, Mr. Wilcox's measurements at a number of key spots around the Island indicate that the rain has not yet raised ground water levels.
One well at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest dropped half a foot in August, reducing it to its lowest level for that month in 24 years. "We could also be looking at the lowest for September too," Mr. Wilcox said.
The water deficit in the soil from drought in July and August was considerable, and Mr. Wilcox thinks plants were the initial beneficiaries of last month's precipitation.
"I think a good deal of that rainfall is being taken up by the plants," he said. "There may be some hitting the water table now. Maybe some of the shallow wells are starting to turn around."
There were 12 days last month that produced measurable rainfall. The month saw steady rain and light drizzle early on, until the remnants of tropical storm Isidore brought more than two inches of rain to Edgartown last week.
Edgartown's totals may not precisely reflect precipitation elsewhere, up-Island in particular; there may well have been more rainfall in other towns.
On average, the Vineyard gets 3.56 inches of rainfall per month. But after the year's driest month, July (.40 inches), and a dry August (1.12 inches), a wet September was welcome.
Last month was also warm. There were 24 days when the temperature rose into the 70s, and three days when the temperature climbed into the 80s.
Acting state climatologist Robert Lautzenheiser told the Gazette that in his home town of Reading, last month was the second warmest September in 46 years. But Mr. Lautzenheiser nevertheless disputes the media's description of this year as one of drought.
"I think the drought has been overstated in the first place, because most people like to use the Boston rainfall figures [which] come from an automatic rain gauge that is no good," he said. "If you checked with a normal rain gauge, the rainfall for the area would be close to normal.
"For a few years, we've had tropical storm rain. In recent times, we have had little tropical rainfall. I think that we are close to average," he added.
Last year's total rainfall for the Vineyard was 42.39 inches, just 3.43 inches below normal.
So far this year, the Vineyard has received 31.09 inches of rainfall. The Island would have to receive close to five inches per month for the rest of the year to reach the annual average of 45.82 inches.
The rainfall patterns have confused some of the Island plants. Mr. Wilcox said he saw rhododendrons blooming in Tisbury.
"When they get stressed by a prolonged drought, as soon as there is rain, they blossom."