This is the weather you wished for last year.
It may feel hotter this week, but compared with Central Maryland's customary scorchers, the weather so far this summer has been unusually mild and moist. In fact, the recent wet months are the latest in a long string of them.
The consequences have been both good and bad for Maryland's people, plants and critters.
"I love it," said Harvey Miller, president of Blades Inc., a commercial lawn service in Baltimore. His grass-cutting crews have had to revisit clients every seven to 10 days. In dry years, the intervals are much longer, and "we lose a lot of revenue."
On the other hand, "the mosquitoes are much worse," said Kevin Sweeney, an entomologist with the Mosquito Control Section of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
"We're doing a lot of work in areas bounded by the wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay, and it's even bad in more inland areas," he said.
Authorities are on watch against mosquito-borne diseases such as Eastern equine encephalitis.
Meanwhile, tomatoes are late, melons aren't as sweet and the hay crop is behind. But the corn is great, pastures are still green and the water table -- depleted by last year's drought -- is back to normal.
"We'd almost forgotten that winters can be cold and summers can be cool," said Hugh van den Dool, chief of the predictions branch at the National Weather Service's Climate Analysis Center in Camp Springs.
Instruments at Baltimore-Washington International Airport recorded 7.38 inches of rain in July -- precisely twice the norm for the month. That made it the third-wettest July on record at the airport since record-keeping began in 1950.
The wettest was July 1960, when 8.18 inches of rain fell.
Tropical Storm Bertha, which blew through July 12-13, accounted for 3.37 inches of the extra 3.69 inches that fell. But numerous showers and thunderstorms brought measurable precipitation on 19 of July's 31 days.
"That's one of the reasons the temperatures were so low. We had lots of clouds," said forecaster Amet Figueroa.
The clouds helped keep Maryland's air relatively clear of ground-level ozone, a product of fossil fuel combustion and sunlight that causes breathing difficulties. Only three "Code Red" air pollution alerts have been issued so far this summer, compared with 12 by this date last year.
The average temperature at BWI last month was 74.3 degrees, well below the 77-degree norm. The hottest day was July 8, when it reached 92 at BWI. The coolest was July 11, when the low was 53. Neither extreme was a record.
Only 13 days this year have had highs of 90 or more: five in July, five in June and three in May.
"It's been chilly, if you will," Figueroa said.
During the first seven months of 1996, instruments at BWI measured 33.63 inches of precipitation, more than 82 percent of the area's normal accumulation for an entire year. Every month except February has seen above-average amounts.
August should be warmer than July. "We're forecasting a weak tendency for above-normal temperatures in August," said meteorologist Tony Barnston of the Climate Predictions Center. He expects "only about a 52 percent chance of above-normal and 48 percent chance of below-normal" temperatures. The weather service is venturing no forecast on rainfall.
Barnston said July's cool, wet weather was the result of a persistent upper-level low-pressure system over southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States. The system sent a series of cool fronts through the region from south-central Canada -- "air that usually doesn't come that far south in July."
That system has begun to move away, he said, "and we're already starting to see some warming. It might come back sometimes, but we're expecting fewer instances of that in August."
This year's cool, wet winter and spring delayed planting, and the wet summer has slowed the harvesting of some crops, including hay, and the maturation of others.
"The tomatoes are the weird ones," said Tony Evans, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "Here it is the sixth of August, and we're just now beginning to get ripe tomatoes, a month late."
Many plants were set out late because of cool weather in May, then hampered by cool July nights. "It was great for sleeping, but the tomatoes wouldn't develop," Evans said.
Leroy Laudenklos, 70, a Perry Hall farmer with 8,000 tomato plants in the fields, said he hasn't seen tomatoes this late in 60 years.
"All us farmers are in the same predicament," he said. The rain also has encouraged weed growth and diluted the effect of pesticides.
Melons may suffer, too, Evans said. "The sweetness of the watermelons, cantaloupes and peaches has not been as high as we would like it, because dry, hot weather concentrates the sugars in fruit."
On the other hand, the weather has been good for corn pollination, he said, and "the early sweet corn that came in during the first to the middle of July was better and in more quantity than I've ever seen it."
"I don't think we can go to the wailing wall," he said. "Normally, we would be smack in the middle of a drought."
The wailing you hear, then, would be the sound of big, healthy mosquitoes.
"The lower Eastern Shore has been bad," said Sweeney, the Agriculture Department entomologist. "The middle Eastern Shore has been pretty bad, and it's been pretty bad in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties and parts of Baltimore County."
The state has conducted aerial spraying in areas that don't normally require it. In addition to the wetlands, he said, flooding in other places that normally are dry has allowed mosquito eggs to hatch that have lain dormant for years.
Sweeney said gnats and biting flies are also plentiful.
Pub Date: 8/08/96