(Originally posted in 2006 but good advice for all times.)
Michael Madsen (P. Eng.) the Engineering Manager for Abarent Construction, (an Edmonton Foundation Specialist) tells us that during drought years much more damage is done to foundations than when soil is sufficiently moist. This is because as the soil dries and shrinks, (a process know as shrinkage due to desiccation) houses settle and in some cases drop into a slight (or not so slight) void, causing cracks in basement walls and corresponding changes in the above structure, the house. In older areas, which is where many of the grand old houses we love to sell are located, the problem is compounded by the many large trees taking up what little moisture there is. We've heard the largest trees can take up 300 gallons a day!
We are concerned that this year because there is no snow, we could see these types of problems much more for lack of spring melt water. We suggest that you water your lawn earlier than you normally would and regularly, even at the risk of being thought a loon by an uninformed passer by or neighbor. You should water, especially around your mature trees, regularly. You need not do this to the point of getting water into your basement, but as soon as you can wet the soil without it freezing, you should start, and keep the soil moist at all times, especially when there is a lack of natural moisture, as in a lack of rain or in this case, snow.
Micheal Madsen says that by wetting the surface soil, you help hold/trap moisture in that is lower down, thereby lessening the likelyhood of further drying/shrinking and therefore serious foundation damage. Foundation Experts expect 2006 to be a very busy year as a result, so: Bottom Line, Rob & June advise you to keep the ground just a bit damp to help keep cracks out of your basement walls and as a result out of your lath & plaster.