Hurricane Matthew is expected to turn eastward and head out to sea after punishing Florida to North Carolina with strong winds and flooding, sparing drought-stricken New England from potentially dangerous weather but also some much-needed rainfall this weekend, forecasters said Wednesday.
The projected storm track changed within a 24-hour span, with the latest forecast calling for a high pressure system over New England to cause the storm to stay to the east, said Margaret Curtis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.
“The most likely scenario is that it passes to the east, but we’ll have our eyes on it,” Curtis said. “It’s definitely been a nail-biter.”
It was a different story down South, where the National Hurricane Center extended a hurricane warning northward in Florida as Matthew headed toward the East Coast. The storm pounded the Bahamas on Wednesday, a day after sweeping across a remote part of Haiti.
The New England forecast is good news for people with outdoor plans this weekend but bad news for farmers with dry fields and homeowners with yellowing lawns.
While no one wants dangerous winds or surf, the region badly needs rain as extreme or severe drought conditions stretch across parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Across the region, some residents have been struggling with wells that have dried up, and some farmers are reporting lower yields.
Declining groundwater tables in southern Maine prompted the Poland Spring bottling company to significantly limit the amount of water it pumps out of one of its largest aquifers in Hollis. Other sites were less affected by the dry weather.
The entire region is parched.
Southernmost York County in Maine is about 17 inches below normal for rainfall this year, and groundwater levels at a U.S. Geological Survey monitoring well in Sanford in June, July and August were the lowest in several decades.
In Maine, the state’s drought task force will meet Thursday. In the meantime, state officials were still watching the hurricane track.
“At this point, we’re not ready to put up our feet and relax,” said Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.