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Extremely dry November in Western Pa. no gift for holidays

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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Unless a sudden storm soaks Western Pennsylvania by Friday, November will be one of the driest on record.

With 0.38 of an inch of rain and snow measured since Nov. 1, the month is on pace to be the third-driest November since complete records started being kept in 1872, according to the National Weather Service in Moon.

Only November 1904 and November 1917 had less rainfall, with 0.22 of an inch and 0.28 of an inch, respectively.

“We're 1 to 2½ inches below normal across a lot of the eastern U.S. ... The jet streams have been carrying storms to the north of us or along the coast,” said meteorologist Fred McMullen. “The systems that do come through are usually pretty dry, bringing maybe a tenth of an inch.”

The weather service expects conditions to return to normal in December.

“It can only get wetter. There's only one way to go,” McMullen said.

December generally brings the region 3 inches of precipitation and an average temperature of 32.4 degrees.

Fire officials said the dry weather makes it more likely for cigarette or mulch fires to spread, especially among dry leaves.

Pittsburgh Deputy Chief for Fire Prevention Colleen Walz said, however, that firefighters have not seen more brush fires than usual for this time of year.

Residents should be careful when setting up outdoor decorations for the holidays, Walz said.

Dry lawns and leaves make it easier for sparks or arcs from improperly wired decorations and extension cords to start fires.

Christmas trees might need to be watered more frequently for the first few days. A Christmas tree gradually adjusts from the outdoors to an indoor climate, said Henry Nutbrown, owner of Nutbrown's Christmas Tree Farm in Collier.

“You'd expect for it to take up a lot more water in the first three days or so,” he said.

To prevent pre-cut trees from drying out before they're sold, operators of tree lots must be more careful to keep trees out of wind and sunlight and to spray them occasionally with water to slow evaporation.

The region's rivers, streams and reservoirs are still healthy despite the dry month, thanks in part to record rainfall dropped by the remnants of Superstorm Sandy in late October, McMullen said.

“Ironically, we got about 3 inches of rain at the end of October,” he said. “Our 30-day, 60-day stream flows and river flows are fine.”

So far, this November is tied with October 1901 as Western Pennsylvania's 11th-driest month ever. October 1874 tops the list, when just 0.06 of an inch of rain fell.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media.

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