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Inside the Monadnock Region's swing from near drought to deluge
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Much of Cheshire, Hillsborough and Sullivan counties were experiencing near-drought conditions as recently as two weeks ago, and New Hampshire saw its hottest June on record.

Then, last weekend, heavy rains caused flooding throughout the Monadnock Region, washing out roads and leaving many area residents to face a daunting cleanup process. The southern part of the state is on track to set precipitation records in July, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s a fairly amplified pattern, so we’ve been kind of seeing the two ends of the spectrum the last couple of months,” said Michael Clair, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. “... It’s uncommon to have these high of swings.”

And while New England weather has always been fairly volatile, these sorts of extreme swings are becoming more common, N.H. State Climatologist Mary Stampone said.

“And it’s part of the high variability we see in weather patterns as a result of climate change,” she said Tuesday. “So, with temperatures getting warmer, when you have a dry period, those warmer temperatures will exacerbate that. So, dry becomes drier. And then when you get into a wet period, warmer temperatures can hold more moisture in the air, so wet becomes wetter.”

Warming temperatures throughout the state have caused “a significant increase” in severe weather events like last weekend’s since the early 1970s, Stampone said, making it more likely to see heavy rains after dry spells.

“And so this type of seesaw weather pattern fits in with the physics of what’s expected in response to a warmer atmosphere,” she said.

Last weekend’s flooding, Stampone added, was specifically the result of the slow-moving line of thunderstorms that dumped more than 5 inches of rain — and almost 8 inches in some parts — on the Monadnock Region.

“And so when it rains that hard, that fast, a lot of the water kind of just runs off the surface and fills up surface-water systems like lakes and streams, and so you get flooding,” she said.

Some areas saw more intense thunderstorms than others. Jaffrey, for instance, got more than 7 inches of rain, primarily due to the path of this particular storm system, Clair said.

“Most of it is just luck of the draw,” he said. “There happened to be multiple rounds of storms that came up through there. But then there is also the factor of some of the higher terrain across southwest New Hampshire. That can kind of help — maybe not so much in this case, but as a general rule — can kind of help get thunderstorms going a little bit more easily.”

Due to unusually dry conditions through June, southwestern New Hampshire needed the rain, Stampone said, especially to help the area’s groundwater systems — which take longer to replenish than surface water sources — begin to return to normal levels.

“So getting the rain was good for the drought,” she said. “And if we look at July now, especially in that part of the state, the rainfall in July has covered the precipitation deficits that were the cause of the drought earlier in the season.”

Heading into July, Keene was about 3 inches of rain behind a normal year, Stampone said. Consistent precipitation throughout the month, though, has resulted in 13.75 inches of rain so far, drastically higher than the average of 2.86 inches for July.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Cheshire and Hillsborough counties and the southern portion of Sullivan County are no longer abnormally dry, while the northern half of Sullivan County is considered abnormally dry but not in a drought. Two weeks ago, that portion of Sullivan County was in a moderate drought, while the southern part of that county, the northern tip of Cheshire County and most of Hillsborough County were listed as abnormally dry.

Moving forward, though, it’s difficult to predict what the rest of the summer, as well as fall and winter, will hold for precipitation in the region, Stampone said.

“New England is particularly challenging when it comes to the far out,” she said. “We don’t even call them forecasts. They’re just outlooks.”

So, she said she encourages Granite Staters to incorporate water conservation into their everyday lives, both to account for the unpredictability of the climate and to help restore groundwater levels.

“Even as we get wetter and stormier, we can still have these dry periods like we saw earlier in the summer,” she said. “And summer’s not over yet.”

And, Stampone added, even with severe storms like last weekend’s, the Monadnock Region can still expect extreme dry spells, too.

“Even if we get rainfall, it does take a while for the groundwater system to recharge,” she said. “So, that’s how you can have droughts and floods at the same time.”

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Peterborough kitchen remodel reveals snapshots to the past

PETERBOROUGH — John Young was at the lumberyard last Wednesday morning when he got a text from Jeff Morgan. The contractors were renovating a kitchen in an old house on Pine Street, and Morgan urgently told Young to return to the site.

“You gotta come look at this wall,” Young recalled Morgan writing.

Young’s first thought was something had gone wrong, and he raced back to the home. When he saw what Morgan had found, he immediately called homeowner Joe Rusin.

John Young Contracting was in the process of gutting the kitchen when Morgan had pulled down two layers of drywall to reveal a Parisian street scene wallpapered across two walls. As he looked more closely, he realized there were dozens of figures, carefully cut from color photos and glued into the scene.

A woman smiling out from where she sits at the café, a young couple on the steps of the pharmacie, a boy perched on a rooftop — altogether 45 faces peered out from the walls of the breakfast nook.

The faces behind the drywall

Rusin wants to learn more about the people in the photos — “Especially the kid who’s got the crab sweater on, I love that one” — and has shared the photos on Facebook in the hopes someone might recognize them.

“If it was me [on the wall],” he said, “I would love to at least come and see it or something. That’s why I put it out there.”

He first shared the photos to a Facebook group called Our Old House, where it had more than 8,000 reactions and 550 shares as of Tuesday afternoon. He then posted in the Peterborough community Facebook page to see if any locals recognize the people.

Kayti Sullivan commented to say her father, Horace Gilbert, had put up the wallpaper in 1958, but not the photos.

Debra Belcher reached out to Rusin to say she recognized her father-in-law and his mother, Ken and Emily Belcher.

The house was built in the early 1800s by Jonas Loring and passed through different owners for about a hundred years before being bought by Dora Spalding, according to a 1997 article in the Monadnock Ledger. Spalding commissioned many additions to the house, the article says. The kitchen where the photos were found was one of those additions, according to Rusin.

Rusin and his wife, Kara, bought the house in 2019, and they live there with their two children, Nikolas and Khloe.

Using archived newspaper articles and old documents — including copies of deeds — he’s found at the house, Joe Rusin has been able to piece together the history of the property. The next owner of the house after Gilbert was Richard Morse, Rusin said, and he believes Morse’s family was most likely the ones to add the photos to the wall.

George Grimshaw bought the house in 1975 and lived there for 20 years, Rusin said, adding that he invited a neighbor, Andy Peterson, who has been in the area since the 1980s to look at the wall, but Peterson didn’t recognize Grimshaw in any of the photos.

Future visitors joining the Rusins for breakfast may not find the work of art on display in the nook, but that’s not to say it won’t be there at all.

“It doesn’t quite fit the décor with what we’re doing with the kitchen,” Rusin said, but he and Young plan to preserve the Parisian street scene as best they can — maybe adding photos of the Rusin family and Young to the scene before wrapping it all in plastic and building a new wall over it.

They want to leave it like a time capsule, Young said, lying in wait for the next contractor who renovates the kitchen.

The new walls won’t go in until they share the discovery with the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. In the meantime, Rusin and Young will continue trying to find the descendants of the house’s former owners.

Both men said they’ve enjoyed unearthing the stories of the property.

“It’s always cool when you’re able to open these old houses like this,” Young said.

Extreme fire behavior has erupted in the West

Months remain until the peak of wildfire season in the western U.S., but hundreds of blazes have already torched more than a million acres, pouring smoke into the sky and offering an ominous warning of what’s ahead in the fall. Bone-dry conditions and anomalously high temperatures are fostering the perfect recipe for extreme wildfire danger, an issue that will only grow as the winds kick up in August and September.

It’s also making for extreme fire behavior, with rapid growth and spread of wildfires, several of which have grown large enough to create their own weather systems.

The season has already featured the development of fire tornadoes, fire-induced thunderstorms and windstorms, and the ignition of new wildfires through barrages of “dry lightning.”

Red flag warnings blanket much of the northwestern Lower 48, stretching from the Badlands in the Dakotas, west through Montana and Idaho, including the Columbia River Basin, and highlighting parts of Oregon and Washington state as well. That’s where the nation’s largest wildfire is burning.

The Bootleg Fire, located in the Klamath and Fremont-Winema National Forests in southeast Oregon, had burned more than 360,000 acres as of Monday evening. At least 2,200 personnel are involved in the firefighting efforts, but it was still only 30 percent contained. The fire first cropped up July 6.

“[It] will continue to be extremely active with unstable air conditions and extremely dry fuels,” officials warned Tuesday.

Massive plumes of smoke emanating from the blaze were prompting air quality alerts. The National Weather Service in Medford, Ore., warned residents to “stay inside if possible” and “keep all windows and doors closed.”

“Smoke can irritate the eyes, lungs and worsen some medical conditions,” they wrote.

That’s one of many fires burning across the west. The Dixie Fire, located east of Paradise, Calif., a Butte County city which infamously burned in the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018, killing 86 people, stands at roughly 60,000 acres in size. It’s only 15 percent contained.

“It produced a large smoke column visible on many of the smoke cameras,” said Scott Rowe, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “We have extraordinarily dry fuels. The ERCs, or energy release components, are at or near seasonal records. That all contributes to the growth of these fires. Since we’ve been having kind of an onshore wind from the south-southwest, the fire goes where the wind goes.”

On Monday, “explosive” development of a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, or essentially a thunderstorm-like cloud made of smoke and water condensate, reached more than 40,000 feet in height. Neil Lareau, a fire specialist and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Nevada at Reno, tweeted that the outflow, or downward cool-air exhaust, of one collapsing plume may have helped kick up another almost as tall.

In fact, the plume even grew tall enough to produce rainfall, but much of it evaporated before hitting the ground. Relative humidity levels stand below about 40 to 50 percent.

Numerous lightning strikes emanated from the fire, raising concern that those strikes could ignite new fires.

“A lot [of fires] have been able to pop up with some pyrocumulonimbus,” said Rowe. “It is only July, and we have a lot of fire season left to go.”

Extreme fire behavior isn’t just an indicator of a robust, potent fire — it presents an incredible danger both to fire officials combating the blaze and to civilians trying to evacuate. In the most extreme circumstances, wildfires aren’t subject to the dominant weather features of the environment. They become the dominant weather feature in their environment.

Serious wildfire pyrocumulonimbus events can produce their own wind, occasionally at speeds exceeding 80 mph. The result is often a firestorm. That can help the fire to grow at breakneck pace, or steer it in unexpected directions. That was a factor in several of the deadly 2018 blazes that ravaged California, including the Paradise Fire. A few had plumes to 50,000 feet.

This season has already witnessed the development of numerous such clouds, primarily in Canada. Following a late July heat wave that smashed the Canadian national record three days in a row and brought a high temperature of 121 degrees in Lytton, British Columbia, dozens of extreme fires broke out and brewed fiery severe thunderstorms.

Between June 30 and July 1, nearly three quarters of a million pyrocumulonimbus-sparked lightning strikes rained down on British Columbia.

Fire tornadoes have been the subject of increasing study and media attention since a deadly funnel struck Redding, Calif. in 2018, producing 143 mph winds and damaging high-voltage power lines. Last year, the Loyalton Fire in northern California spurred the National Weather Service in Reno, Nev. to issue the agency’s first fire tornado warning.

Several fire tornadoes have developed this year, too, including from the Tennant Fire on June 29, which continues to burn east of Siskiyou, Calif., east of Interstate 5 and along Highway 97. Doppler radar initially captured tight rotation commensurate with a likely fire tornado. Pulses of rotation lasted for more than an hour.

It’s likely that more extreme fire behavior is in the offing over the next several months. While the environment, characterized by excessive heat and a pronounced lack of humidity, is a tinder box, winds are a major factor in fueling fire expansion. They usually ramp up during the autumn. Offshore wind events are also effective at drying the landscape even more, particularly on the western slope of hillsides and within mountain valleys.

As climate change continues to foster more extreme heat events and a drying of the West, it’s probable that bouts of extreme fire behavior will continue.

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Missing Hinsdale man found dead in Massachusetts
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Michael Aldieri of Hinsdale has been found dead in an apparent drowning, a week after he went missing, according to local police.

Authorities from Northfield, Mass., found Aldieri’s body in the Connecticut River around 7 p.m. Monday, Hinsdale Police Chief Charles Rataj said Tuesday afternoon.

The Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has cited drowning as a preliminary cause of death for Aldieri, 43, according to Rataj, who said that office hadn’t yet issued a final report. A spokesman for the medical examiner’s office didn’t confirm the preliminary conclusion when asked Tuesday afternoon, saying only that the office “has not completed its process to determine a cause and manner of death.”

No foul play is suspected, the Office of the Northwestern District Attorney in Massachusetts announced in a news release earlier Tuesday.

Aldieri went missing July 12, according to Hinsdale police, who said in a Facebook post at the time that he was last seen downtown early the next morning.

His father, Mike, with whom Michael lived in Hinsdale, told The Sentinel he noticed his son was gone around 2 a.m. on July 13 and that he “knew something was wrong” at the time.

Mike Aldieri said he found his son’s jacket last Friday on a downtown bridge over the Ashuelot River, which flows into the Connecticut River. After notifying local police of his discovery, he said a water department employee reported having seen the jacket in a nearby road earlier that week.

Hinsdale police are investigating how Aldieri ended up in the river, Rataj said Tuesday.

Officers looked for him near the river over the past week, he said, including using a drone to view the area from above. But with heavy rain and flooding over the weekend, Rataj said police were unable to use a boat in their search.

By then, however, Mike Aldieri said he thinks the effort was futile.

“The police looked everywhere, but it was just too late,” he said.

Raised in Winchester, Michael Aldieri moved to Hinsdale in 2009 after also living in Spofford briefly, according to his father, who said his son battled mental and physical health issues for many years. Mike Aldieri believes those conditions were likely the result of spinal surgery that involved inserting metal rods in his son’s back when he was 14, leaving him in pain and self-conscious of his appearance.

“When he was young, everybody liked Mike,” his father said. “He was a good kid — very approachable, friendly and generous.”

Even as Aldieri’s mental health declined as he got older, making it difficult for him to keep a job and often leaving him paranoid, his father said he remained a “good-hearted person.” Aldieri spent much of his time making music — mainly hip-hop and rap — that he posted online and also working on graphic-design projects for his friends, according to his father.

“He kept himself busy making music,” Mike Aldieri said. “Every day, he created one or two new pieces of music ... I think some of it was exceptionally good.”

Mike Aldieri said he felt the COVID-19 pandemic was especially hard on his son because it kept him from seeing other people regularly. Michael Aldieri’s grandmother, Mike’s mom, who lived with them, died in January, which Mike said also contributed to his son’s depression.

Aldieri’s body was found Monday after a bicyclist saw it floating in the river below the Route 10 bridge between the Massachusetts towns of Northfield and Gill, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s news release. It was recovered near the Northfield Mount Hermon boarding school’s boathouse on Hayfields Road in Gill, the release states.

His body’s recovery, Mike Aldieri said, at least offers some closure.

“He was very talented and very loving. He’s going to be missed.”

This article has been updated with additional information from Michael Aldieri’s father and has been changed to correct Aldieri's age at the time of his spinal surgery. 

Caleb Symons can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420, or csymons@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @CalebSymonsKS.