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Rain eases dry season, but crops still thirsty Brief splash does little to relieve farmers in central Maryland


The weekend's downpour may splash green on parched lawns across Maryland and ease the threat of wildfires, but it's too little, too late for many farmers' withered summer crops.

The first soaking rain since early August brought one to two inches across central Maryland on Saturday night and early yesterday, weather observers said. Baltimore-Washington International Airport received 1.98 inches, according to the National Weather Service, while Pikesville recorded the most, at 2.10 inches. Frederick and Cumberland in Western Maryland, by comparison, got 1.15 and 1.30 inches through yesterday, while on the Eastern Shore Easton got 1.18 inches and Salisbury 0.95 inches.

It was a welcome drink for a dry region, which has received only localized showers or downpours over the past six weeks, but nothing to drench the entire area. The last measurable precipitation at BWI before Saturday was barely above a trace -- 0.01 inch on Aug. 28.

But National Weather Service forecaster Richard Diener said occasional gully-washers do little to cure the long-term rainfall deficit. The Baltimore area has received 2.09 inches of rain in the past month, far below the normal rainfall for September of 3.41 inches. And rainfall for the year remains 6.42 inches below the normal annual total of 40.76 inches.

"This is a pattern," said Mr. Diener. "You can go back across the last several months and find that most of the rainfall has been in cloudbursts, and then the rest of the month seems to have a deficit -- no rain or a trace of rain."

The wet weekend should help revive sun-scorched suburban lawns, and it seems likely to ease the threat of wildfires in the state's parks and forests, said Robert Graham, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The department has urged Eastern Shore residents to avoid outdoor burning, but has stopped short of a ban.

Farmer Wayne McGinnis of White Hall said the moisture may help him salvage some hay for livestock. He said he's already had to dip into his winter feed supply because the summer heat and drought have killed off much of his grass.

The rain also may bode well for fall plantings of barley and wheat, and for fruit and vegetable growers, said Tony Evans, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

But it comes too late for two of the state's biggest crops: corn and soybeans. Mr. McGinnis, 58, who farms 12,200 acres in Baltimore County, said rain now is only a nuisance as he tries to harvest corn weakened by heat and drought. He plans to use the corn for livestock feed this winter.

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