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From Drought To Deluge: Northeast U.S. Braces For Flash Flooding

Unprecedented rainfall transforms dry conditions into dangerous flash floods, with fatalities reported

MONTPELIER, VT— At the end of May, parts of the Northeast were on the brink of a flash drought, or bouts of short-term drought fueled by weather conditions. Lower-than-average rainfall, high temperatures, strong winds and increased sunlight caused abnormally dry and drought conditions to develop across the region.

Now, less than two months later, the same region is under threat of flash flooding.

Northfield, MA – July 19: Ron and Bernie Smiarowski at their ruined potato field which flooded when the Connecticut River overflowed recently. (Photo by SUZANNE KREITER/The Boston Globe via GETTY IMAGES) 

In May, the driest conditions were in eastern Pennsylvania. Philadelphia’s historical average for rainfall in May is 3.89 inches, but this year only 0.24 of an inch was recorded – barely 6% of the usual amount, according to National Weather Service (NWS) data.

A driver stops on a mud-covered bridge while deciding whether to drive through floodwaters of the Winooski River, Wednesday, July 12, 2023, in Montpelier, Vt. The driver decided to back up, following a storm that dumped nearly two months of rain in two days. Vermonters are cleaning up from the deluge of water. (AP Photo/CHARLES KRUPA)

But in July, Philadelphia has been thoroughly soaked. The city has recorded 3.70 inches of rain so far this month according to the NWS, well above the historical average of 2.21 inches through July 17.

In New York, cities are experiencing unprecedented levels of rainfall. This month is already the second-wettest July on record in Albany, New York, which recorded 9.41 inches of rainfall with almost half the month left to go, according to the NWS. Historically, the city has only recorded 2.46 inches of rain by this point of the month.

Albany has measured enough precipitation for this month to rank among the wettest Julys on record as of July 19, 2023.

Cities in New England have also been wetter than average, with some places experiencing top-five July precipitation amounts. Worcester, Massachusetts, has experienced a particularly dramatic deviation in rainfall this month, recording 9.89 inches of rain so far, according to the NWS. This number would qualify this month as the city’s fourth-wettest July on record.

Cambridge, MA – July 16: Jessica Malave stands under an umbrella during a rainstorm along Massachusetts Ave. (VINCENT ALBAN/The Boston Globe via GETTY IMAGES 

The historical rainfall average for the city in July would be 2.09 inches, which means Worcester is seeing close to five times as much rain as the average.

Worcester has measured enough precipitation for this month to rank among the wettest Julys  on record as of July 19, 2023.

The increased rainfall has meant the dangers of flash floods have plagued the Northeast in the first few weeks of July. Vermont suffered the state’s worst flood in over 100 years that brought many of the state’s dams to capacity.

As of July 18, 2023, there have been 44 fatalities related to floods in the United States, according to NWS data, with 10 of these deaths being reported in July. Most of these deaths – 32 – happened when the victim was driving, according to the NWS.


Floods killed 102 people in the U.S. in 2022, with almost half – 48 deaths – being reported in July.

Experts warn that flash floods can happen minutes to hours after a period of excessive rainfall or a sudden release of water from a dam failure or ice jam, according to the NWS. In addition to forming rapidly, flash floods also move quickly and powerfully. Just six inches of moving water could easily knock a person off their feet or stall a car by sucking water into the tailpipe. If the water reaches a foot deep, the NWS says it can sweep away most vehicles.

Produced in association with AccuWeather

Edited by and

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