DROUGHT THREATENS CROPS Heat, lack of rainfall combine to cause problems in many areas.


This summer's stubborn hot, parched weather has pushed portions of Maryland into "extreme" drought conditions for the first time since 1988, federal weather analysts say.

No inkling of relief is in sight at least until Tuesday with temperatures forecast in the the mid-90s or higher each day with no rain. There is a possibility of thunderstorms Tuesday.

At 1 p.m. today, the temperature in downtown Baltimore was 93 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, and it was 92 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The beach forecast, meanwhile, called for partly cloudy weather with temperatures in the 80s to around 90 degrees today, tomorrow and Sunday, with a chance of thundershowers each day.

Hardest hit by the hot and dry conditions are Allegany, Washington, Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford, Montgomery and Cecil counties, said David Miskus, editor of the weekly climate bulletin for the National Weather Service's Climate Analysis Center in Camp Springs.

Late-planted corn and soybeans already are becoming stunted in parts of Baltimore County, said county extension agent Mike Bazley.

As for fruit and vegetable farmers, he said, "If you're not irrigating, you don't have crop, basically. . . . I'd say with two weeks more of this, we'd be in a disaster. We'd be pretty much wiped out in this county."

What's not shriveling in the sun, farmers say, hungry deer are eating.

"The deer population has exploded in Baltimore County," Bazley said. "Now that they've depleted the forest foods, they're also into what's left of the corn."

Tony Evans, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said corn damage in Maryland is still spotty, but in some places "it is not doing well." Yields may suffer if there's inadequate rain during the plant's pollination time, which is just beginning.

The dry weather "has prevented the planting of soybeans in Western Maryland," Evans said. "It's so dry, there's not enough moisture in the soil to crack the seed, for germination."

Maryland agriculture officials are watching the worsening drought, and preparing to meet next week to assess the damage to crops, said Evans.

If the damage warrants it, the state Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service can seek federal disaster aid for affected counties, he said.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport has recorded barely 0.7 inches of rain this month, and only 14.54 inches for the year -- about 7 inches below normal.

Some area vegetable farmers report they are irrigating up to 24 hours day to keep their crops alive.

And with temperatures stuck in the 90s, what water they do lay down quickly evaporates.

BWI gets an average of 27 days with 90-plus temperatures from April through August. This year, said chief meteorologist Fred Davis, the airport has already counted 30 days that hot.

The high yesterday at the airport was 98 degrees, two degrees hotter than the high downtown.

The forecast for the next 10 days calls for highs in the mid-90s. Tomorrow could reach 100 degrees with high humidity. Rainfall is expected to remain below normal.

After two years of normal or above-normal rainfall, Maryland began drying up in April.

Conditions in the state's northern counties first reached "extreme" drought last week, as measured by the weekly Palmer Drought Index, a complex measure of such things as soil moisture, rainfall and temperatures.

The "extreme" drought conditions in northern Maryland are part of a wider pattern that includes northeastern Ohio, northeastern Pennsylvania, eastern West Virginia, and central Virginia, Miskus said.

While the northern tier of counties is the driest, Miskus said, nearly all the rest of the state is enduring "severe" drought conditions, a somewhat less serious rating.

Kent and Queen Anne's are the wettest, but still reporting conditions qualifying as "moderate" drought, Miskus said.

He blamed the lack of rain since April on a persistent weather pattern that has held Maryland under the sway of high-pressure systems, while cold-front storms pass by to our north, and Gulf Coast moisture passes by to our south.

Rainfall since April has followed "a hit and miss pattern," he said, "with more of it missing our area, unfortunately." Heavy, isolated thunderstorms have hit some spots, while other locations have gone dry.

For example, Miskus said, "in early June, Dulles Airport [in northern Virginia] got 4 1/2 inches in one day." That has kept rainfall totals there near normal for the April through mid-July period.

But at Washington's National Airport, rainfall for the same period stands at about 50 percent of normal, and BWI has received less than 35 percent.

"There was some precipitation early in July, but it was relatively light and really just helped the topsoil," Miskus said. "It didn't help recharge the subsoil," which figures into the drought index.

This is the first time Maryland has suffered extreme drought since far Western Maryland was hit in 1988. The Baltimore region last had extreme drought conditions in 1987.


:0.. .. .. .. 1991.. .. .. Normal.. .. .. Deficit

January .. 3.54 in. .. 3.00 in. .. .. + 0.54 in.

February .. .73.. .. .. 2.98 .. .. .. - 2.25

March .. .. 5.65 .. .. 3.72 .. .. .. + 1.93

April .. .. 1.68 .. .. .3.35 .. .. .. - 1.67

May .. .. 1.16 .. .. 3.44 .. .. .. - 2.2

June .. .. 1.08 .. .. 3.76 .. .. .. ..- 2.68

July .. .. 70 .. .. * 3.89 .. .. .. ..- 3.19

(Jan.-June) 13.84 .. .. 20.25 .. .. - 6.41

* Through 7/17

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