Long-awaited downpours drench Baltimore area Drought continues in Western Maryland


Brief but violent thunderstorms rumbled across parts of Central Maryland yesterday, dropping as much as 2 inches of rain in some areas, but they missed Western Maryland farmers caught in the throes of a drought.

The storms cropped up randomly throughout the day, with some of the heaviest rains in the Baltimore area falling in midafternoon -- accompanied by peals of thunder and lightning flashes.

The groundskeeper at Memorial Stadium reported that 4.2 inches fell there between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- the highest rainfall reported in Maryland yesterday by the National Weather Service.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. monitoring equipment counted thousands of lightning strikes -- more than 1,400 between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. alone -- which knocked out power to 34,200 customers, spokesman John Metzger said. About 6,800 of the outages were in Baltimore, 1,750 in Howard County, 1,640 in Anne Arundel County, 500 in Baltimore County, 500 in Carroll County, with the remainder scattered around the BG&E; system.

A Baltimore Department of Transportation dispatcher reported traffic problems throughout the city because of minor flooding of low-lying intersections and malfunctioning traffic signals. Particularly hard hit by flooding were the intersection of North Point Road and Kane Street, and the 2500 block of West Franklin Street.

The storms were caused by weak upper-air disturbances passing along the cold front that has been in the Maryland area since Wednesday, according to forecaster Ken Shaver of the National Weather Service office at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Generally, one-half inch to 2 inches of rain fell in parts of Central Maryland and the Eastern Shore, but virtually none fell in Western Maryland. No rain was reported at Frederick or Hagerstown, just a trace fell at Westminster and .04 inch was reported in Cumberland.

"So the people in Western Maryland aren't going to get much help from this one," Mr. Shaver said.

The drought in areas that did receive much-needed rain may have been eased somewhat, but it is far from over.

"It's not the kind of rain you really need," Mr. Shaver said. "You need a steady rain over a two- or three-day stretch."

But areas along the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland have received as much as 3 inches from the storms yesterday and Thursday, Mr. Shaver said.

The rain on the Eastern Shore was blamed for at least one traffic fatality in Worcester County, state police said.

Phonexay Xaiyavath, 29, of Showell, was driving south on U.S. 113 about 2:30 p.m. yesterday when the car in front of him skidded on the rain-slick road. In trying to avoid it, Mr. Xaiyavath lost control of his vehicle, crossed the center line and crashed head on into a northbound car.

Mr. Xaiyavath was pronounced dead at the Peninsula General Hospital Medical Center. Four occupants of the northbound car were hospitalized, police said.

Weather forecasts called for a chance of more rain through Sunday. The front, which had been stalled over the Baltimore area, was expected to move slowly toward the southeast.

Despite the storms, local municipalities that have enacted bans on outdoor daytime water use said they will remain in effect.

The hours of the watering ban affecting customers of the Baltimore water system, which includes residents of Baltimore and portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, were adjusted to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., public works officials said yesterday.

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