When Ted Wycall started his organic farm in Salisbury five years ago, scarce rain was not a part of his calculations.
But after surviving a serious drought last year, Wycall and his 200-acre Greenbranch Farm, and his fellow farmers across the Lower Eastern Shore, are battling severe heat and drought again this summer.
The 90-degree heat in Maryland is expected to continue Wednesday, with a predicted high temperature near 92 degrees at BWI-Marshall Airport, and 94 at Salisbury.
Forecasters said a cold front crossing the region Wednesday should knock daytime highs back into the 80s for the rest of the week. However, meteorologists were not very encouraging about rain prospects.
"There's a chance for thunderstorms Friday afternoon, but they're isolated and scattered, at best," said meteorologist Dan Proch, at the National Weather Service's regional forecast office in Wakefield, Va. The chances for showers and storms on the Lower Shore were set at just 30 percent.
Scattered showers is about all the Lower Shore has seen this summer, said Richard Nottingham, the agricultural extension agent in Somerset County.
Overall, he said, "I would rate probably half our corn crop as being somewhat in poor condition. … Soybean plantings have been delayed … a good two weeks waiting for soil moisture. There's no need to plant if there's not enough moisture there to germinate the seed."
Pasture conditions have suffered, too, Nottingham said. And the hay harvest may be off by a third due to the drought.
"I have seen a little improvement over the last week" thanks to some showers, he said. But they've been spotty. "Some have received quite a bit of rain, others nothing."
But farmers need to be optimists, so Nottingham did offer a brighter note. "I think last year was probably worse at this point," he said. And "one good thing is that disease and insect pressure has been light due to the dry weather."
The three counties at the southern end of Maryland's Eastern Shore —Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester — were rated in "severe drought" last week, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map. Salisbury is running a rainfall deficit of almost 9 inches since the first of the year.
It's the northern and easternmost extreme of a swath of punishing drought that stretches from southeastern Arizona, across the Deep South to the southeast Atlantic coast.
By last week, 87 percent of Maryland was rated as at least "abnormally dry," with only Garrett and Allegany counties fully outside the dry zone. Extreme Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore south of the Bay Bridge are in "moderate" drought or worse.
Dry weather on the Lower Shore has taken a toll on residents whose regular jobs were cut by the recession.
"A lot of people who lost their jobs got a lawn mower and went out cutting grass," said extension agent Ginny Rosenkranz. But browning lawns just don't need to be cut.
"People are concerned about it," Rosenkranz said. "They're afraid it's such a bad drought we're going to have water restrictions."
Lower Shore residents say they keep seeing the same pattern on the weather radar: Summer rainstorms cross the bay, only to veer off or evaporate before reaching the Eastern Shore.
That's what Wycall said he saw Monday night. A line of thunderstorms pounded the Western Shore, then moved out over the bay. "We watched the storm just split in half,." He said. "Half went north, half went south."