Beneficial rains were observed across the local islands during the month of February. As a result, drought improvements were observed across portions of the local islands.
While conditions have improved on all three islands since February, drought still remains across the territory with severe drought conditions in St. Croix and moderate drought conditions in St. Thomas and St. John.
Vegetation and trees are still showing signs of distress. Livestock farmers and horse ranchers are buying hay. The vegetation is not bouncing back due to a lack of moisture in the soil. Ponds and collection containers have not been fully recharged.
Based on the rainfall forecast by the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum, there are equal chances of observing either above or below normal rainfall. The climatological onset of the wet season in late April should lead to continued improving conditions, even with near-normal rainfall.
Drought conditions vary in the U.S. Virgin Islands with moderate drought (D1) in St. Thomas and St. John, and severe drought (D2) conditions in St. Croix. Through April 5, 2022, the year to date (YTD) rainfall at Cyril King Airport in St. Thomas has been 7.53”. This is about 110% of normal. The 8.01” of rain YTD at Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix is about 150% of normal, and the 9th wettest on record. Improvements to the ongoing severe drought should be coming soon.
Since the previous drought update in February, drought conditions have gradually improved on all three islands due to increased precipitation. However, drought still remains across the Territories with severe drought conditions in St. Croix and moderate drought conditions in St. Thomas and St. John. Intermittent rainfall territory-wide is not fully recharging ponds and collection containers due to increased temperatures and intermittent high winds.
Poultry farmers indicated that due to sporadic rain, they are beginning to prepare to purchase water as they use cisterns for watering chickens. Poultry producers also stated increased heat is impacting egg production. Farmers are reporting windy weather which is contributing to a lack of moisture in the soil. In St. Thomas, ponds have not filled completely due to a lack of rain. Specialty and row crop farmers are reporting that greens, including lemongrass, kale, and peppers, are burning due to heat, and orchards that require more water are only being watered every other day. Most are employing conservation methods including increasing the use of drip irrigation methods and are also working to increase the storage capacity of water.
Farmers are reporting that they are watering both early and late to conserve water. Many are using mulch to help retain water in the soil. Farmers are implementing immediate conservation methods including crop rotation and alternating watering schedules to maximize water resources. Farmers also indicated that the need for increased irrigation and Smart Technology will help them to combat drought and potentially to increase production. Drone footage from Rafe Boulon on March 28 documenting drought conditions on St. John can be found here.
Farmers who have been purchasing water are concerned due to the high economic impacts of costs related to water. Farmers of all sizes are reporting sporadic rain that has perked vegetation but that hot, dry weather is still affecting their ability to retain soil moisture. One producer reported purchasing 12,000 gallons of water per week, which will cause further economic distress if drought continues. Long-term drought indicators are creating an urgent need for irrigation systems to be deployed in the fields. Poultry farmers are reporting increased purchases for water in cisterns and decreased egg production due to heat. The VI Department of Agriculture (VIDA) also reported that, in St. Croix, 1,312,707 gallons of water were delivered to the agricultural community in February, and 1,041,290 gallons were delivered in March. VIDA also reported that both horse and livestock ranchers are procuring hay at this time. To address the economic impacts of feed, and as drought conditions continue, livestock farmers are also planning mitigation efforts to continue to rotate livestock to feed them.