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Drought Lingers Despite Rain

Some regions around the United States got up to half an inch of rain Sunday -- but not nearly enough to allow state officials to cancel drought alerts.

Environmental officials say it will take a lot more than that to replenish dwindling groundwater and surface water supplies and get the reservoirs back to comfortable levels.

The drought plaguing the Northeast may not only be the worst of the century, some scientists fear it could signal a change in global climate.

Most scientists who study the climate say that the warming is due at least in some part to heat-trapping gases that are being put into the upper atmosphere by pollution. Although the National Weather Service points out that the current drought shows a pattern of one major drought every 30 years.

Water restrictions are in effect in all or parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Delaware, where industry has been ordered to cut water use by 20 percent. West Virginia is now a drought-disaster area, and Ohio residents are being asked to limit their water use.

Ironically, while drought mostly causes great concern, like a cloud, it does have a silver lining. The dry weather has kept mosquitoes from proliferating, a major advantage for hikers, campers and people who like eating dinner on the deck.

Also, farmers who grow grapes for wine say this year's crop looks better than ever. Drought conditions have made the weather more akin to the grape-growing regions of the Napa Valley and the Mediterranean.

"It's almost too good to be true," says winemaker Robert Matarazzo of Four Sisters Winery in Belvidere, N.J. "The grape clusters are just hanging there, beautiful."

Grapes have very deep roots and can find plenty of water to grow healthy. Less rot and fewer insects on the surface means plump grapes and no chemical spraying.

But no one is suggesting that less mosquito bites and finer wine compensate for shrinking reservoirs and parched fields.

Just to make sure people keep their priorities straight, New Jersey's Governor Whitman declared a drought emergency on Thursday, outlawing most outdoor uses of water such as greening the lawn or washing the car. Violating these restrictions can carry stiff penalties, including fines of $1,000.