Dry summer may follow soggy spring


Baltimore's reservoirs are full again, and if Baltimoreans are feeling just a tad mossy under all this rain, at least they know the summer veggies are off to a lush start.

The ample spring rains have washed away the effects of the drought that began in July 1998 and led the governor last summer to impose statewide water restrictions.

But weather and water experts caution that today's welcome moisture could evaporate quickly in the coming months.

While May seemed like a soggy month, it was fairly dry across the state, down by an inch or more from normal amounts.

And the drought that is now parching the nation's South, Southwest and Midwest has its easternmost tentacles in the thin mountain soils of Maryland's Garrett and Allegany counties.

"Whether we go into a drought or not will depend on whether we have days like today or not," said hydrologist Bill Fleck, of the U.S. Geological Survey, as more rain fell yesterday outside his office window in Rossville.

"Conditions in Western Maryland are a little touchier than in the rest of the state," he said. "If there's a dry spell, Western Maryland will be leading the pack."

Last year's punishing drought - the driest spell here in 70 years - triggered water use restrictions across the state and cost Maryland farmers more than $72 million in crop losses.

So far in 2000, official rainfall tallies at Baltimore-Washington International Airport are running more than an inch above normal for the year. January, March and April were all wetter than average. There were 19 days in April that produced at least a trace of rain, 18 more rainy days in May, and three in the first six days of June.

The rains have refilled Baltimore's reservoirs to their full 80 billion-gallon capacity, doubling the volume held there at the depth of last summer's drought emergency. Twenty billion gallons have been added since January, Fleck said.

Except for Western Maryland and the Potomac, the state's rivers and creeks have recovered, too. Stream flow into the Chesapeake Bay climbed from 80 percent of average in January to 103 percent in April.

Ditto for the water table. Almost all 32 wells monitored by the USGS in Maryland and Delaware show groundwater back in the normal range.

But "it would be precipitous to say there is nothing to worry about this summer," said Fred Gadomski, a meteorologist with the Penn State Weather Communications Group.

Although the spring rains bode well, he said, "rainfall has not been so far above normal that, if we were to turn off the spigot and have a long series of sunny, very warm days, that we couldn't start to affect soil moisture conditions in a way that would have people thinking about drought again."

Total accumulation fell almost an inch below normal at BWI last month. The shortfalls across the state exceeded an inch or two.

Farmers have nearly all their corn planted, most of their vegetable crops and a third of their soybeans, said state Agriculture Department spokesman Tony Evans.

"We'd like a little more sun and heat," he said. All things considered, though, the situation in the fields is a lot better that it was this time last year.

"I'm optimistic we'll have a semblance of a normal season," he said. "God knows our farmers need it."

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