The sun was brilliant in a cloudless sky, the temperature 72 degrees, the wind brisk across the Rash Field ice rink on the south side of the Inner Harbor. It was a great day for skating, a terrible day for ice.
"Right now the only way we can stay open during the day is to make ice all night," says Gill Boisvert, the man who runs the Rash rink. "We've been making ice since the 17th of November -- every night. Usually we make ice for about a week and we're set for the season. We never had that problem in the past, [not] since we've been here. It's been so warm."
Warm indeed. The same unusual fall weather that has produced long-lasting, golden autumn leaves and kept golfers out on the links longer is making for wet behinds for children who slip while skating at Rash Field.
"If you fall down, you get soaked," beams a bright-eyed fourth-grader from Charlesmont Elementary School, pulling herself up off the ice.
Music teacher Colleen Lesler had brought the fourth- and fifth-grade chorus from the Baltimore County school to sing a few songs at theInner Harbor field, then have some fun on the rink for a couple of hours. About 115 kids, all 9 and 10 years old, skittered around the rink like water bugs on a still pond, most with jackets off, in shirtsleeves or T-shirts.
Things were a little less comfortable for Boisvert, the former Baltimore Clippers goalie who operates the Rash rink and the rink in Patterson Park. By 4 o'clock, he had to shut down the rink for the third afternoon in a row -- too much water on the ice.
"We were watching birds floating around out there like on a lake," says his daughter Carol Boisvert, 33, who does a little bit of everything around the rink. "The wind factor was horrible."
She's not talking about the sharp winter wind-chill factor that makes 30 degrees feel like zero. In fact, just the opposite.
"The wind is worse than the temperature," Gill Boisvert explains. "What the wind does is it moves the cold air right off the top of the ice. It's like taking a block of ice and putting a hair dryer on it at a high speed."
At night, the problem goes away -- even though evening temperatures haven't been much below 50 degrees.
"When the sun goes down, it tightens up and we have great ice," Carol Boisvert says. That allows for a 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. session every day. "You can really have a good time. It's nice. You glide. It's wonderful."
But the lovely fall afternoons mean long nights for Gill Boisvert and his ice-making crew.
"The problem is to build enough ice. If we put on an inch of ice during the night, we lose it in the afternoon.
"I'm here sometimes till 1 o'clock," he says. "But I have a crew that comes in at 10 o'clock and stays here until 6 in the morning."
They keep going, in fact, until the sun comes up, building up the ice surface like you would a layer cake. They spray a layer of water with a hose, let it freeze, then spray on another layer.
"Right now you have to wait maybe three-quarters of an hour between coats," he says. The temperature's hovering around 50 at night. "If it was cold you could lay two coats per hour."
Two nights ago, he says, it was 53 degrees but the humidity was 73 percent. Just as in July -- it's not the heat, it's the humidity.
"That kills me," he says.
The rink is cooled with brine circulated by a refrigeration unit. On afternoons such as these, the brine might leave the machine at 18 degrees but come back at 24, the same temperature as the ice -- not that far below freezing.
"I don't like this weather," Gill Boisvert says. "If I didn't have the rink, I'd be out golfing. Then I'd love it. The golf people are making the money."
He's right about that.
At the city's Clifton Park course, they've seen three to four times as many golfers this fall as during a "normal" year -- about 175 to 200 players a day.
That compares with the usual 45 to 60 golfers a day around this time of year. During high season, April to October, Clifton Park gets up to 260 golfers a day.
"We're very happy," an assistant manager who wouldn't give his name says, even though the busy fall means more work, such as blowing leaves off the greens.
Could be worse, though. Tim Diehl, an assistant to Baltimore chief horticulturist William Stein, says he thinks the warm, dry fall has kept leaves on the trees longer.
But what about those 25,000 daffodil and 40,000 tulip bulbs his crew has just planted all over town? Won't they want to bloom ahead of schedule if this weather keeps up?
No, Diehl says. "This little bit of warm weather won't do anything. It just makes it a little bit easier for us. We don't have to rush to get them into the ground before a hard frost."
The temperature, he says, doesn't matter so much. It's the amount of daylight that triggers plant growth. We'll still have to wait until March or April to see how it all comes out.
In the end, even Mother Nature can't fool Mother Nature.
Pub Date: 12/04/98