Cool July has rained on some parades


Maybe this is the weather you prayed for during last summer's drought.

This summer's cool, wet weather has turned lawns lush and greened up the bottom line for many lawn service companies. It has encouraged backyard vegetable gardeners but also some of the pests and fungi that share their crops.

Summer camp operators, pools, construction companies - virtually everybody in the Baltimore region - have had to adjust to what has been one of the wettest summers in 50 years, and the coolest July in the past 100 years.

"I hope nobody's complaining. I'm not complaining," said Dewey Walston, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sterling, Va. "At least it's been nice and cool. It could be in the 90s every day."

The cool, wet weather has been a gift from Canada. The stubborn ridge of high pressure that brought hot, dry weather to the Middle Atlantic states last summer has shifted west this year, and states west of the Mississippi are suffering with heat, drought and wildfires.

July temperatures have averaged 72.3 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Walston said. That's the coolest July in Baltimore since July 1891, and more than a full degree cooler than July 1962 -the chilliest July of the 20th century.

Temperatures have been held down in part by rain clouds. The weather service recorded 16 days this month with at least a trace of rain. June brought 18 rainy days.

Rainfall at BWI this month totaled 4.49 inches through Wednesday, making it the wettest July since 1996. But it was nowhere near the record 11.03 inches recorded in 1889. The average for July at BWI is 3.69 inches.

June saw 5.56 inches of rain this year at BWI - nearly 2 inches above normal. That qualified as the fourth-wettest June there in 25 years, but it was well shy of the record 9.95 inches that fell in June 1972.

Taken together, June and July this year have seen 10.05 inches of rain dropped at the airport, one of the wettest such periods since the airport opened in 1950.

"It's killing me," said Sherry Whiteford, athletic supervisor for the Annapolis Recreation and Parks Department. "It's a scheduling nightmare. I've been whining about it all day."

Whiteford said the department's spring men's softball league has rescheduled so many games she's afraid it will overlap with the fall league schedule.

"We're not Camden Yards," Whiteford said. "We don't have the luxury of tarps to cover the field. If you were to step on it, you would probably sink two or three inches in the mud."

The rain hasn't bothered mothers Clarke Fitzmaurice, Patty Barry or Mary Ellen Johnson, who have been taking their combined seven kids to the Meadowbrook pool in Mount Washington this summer, rain or shine.

"I've been so much happier this summer," said Johnson as she sat amid the trio's squirming clutch of infants and toddlers at poolside yesterday. "Last year was sweltering hot. You worried about your plants and had to water them all this time. This is just nicer."

Not so nice, perhaps for the pool's management or employees.

"Check-ins at the front desk are 6 percent behind last summer," said Meadowbrook manager John Cadigan.

Attendance at swimming lessons is down 12 percent, he said. And snack bar revenues are off 20 percent.

Some costs are down, too, Cadigan said. With fewer swimmers to serve, lifeguards, snack bar attendants and swimming instructors are working fewer hours, and the pool needs fewer chemicals.

"We're not going to go out of business," he said, "but it would be nice to have more activity here."

Just after lunchtime yesterday, under gray skies, lifeguard Katie Sharkey, 18, had 11 people to watch in Meadowbrook's 200-foot-by-110-foot outdoor pool.

At the same time last year, 80 or 90 people may have been in the pool. "It's a lot less chaotic," said Sharkey. "But it's a lot more boring."

The rainy days have resulted in emptier shelves, damper carpets and more irritable customers at the Blockbuster video store at Long Gate in Columbia.

Store manager Leslie Platt said Wednesday's rain brought in 270 customers, 100 more than a typical midsummer Wednesday.

Sales are up 30 percent over last year at Greenlawn Inc., an Ellicott City lawn service. Part-owner Karen Halbach said some of her customers have been asking for two mowings a week to keep up with the growth. Last summer, lawns would go two to three weeks without needing a trim.

The rain has been a boon to gardeners, said Ray Bosmans, a regional specialist with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

"Most gardeners would be pleased," he said. "I'm getting behind in my weeding and mowing, but it's not a bad price to pay for everything staying alive."

The persistent moisture has triggered some calls for help to the Extension Service's Home and Garden Information Center hot line (800-342-2507).

Leslie May, a horticultural specialist with the center, said the chief problems have been slugs, snails, and plant fungi or mildew.

On the farms, the rain has helped produce a fine-looking corn crop. But small-grain farmers report their fields are yielding 25 percent to 30 percent less grain of a lower grade than is typically milled into flour, said Kelly Hereth, Carroll Farm Service Agency director.

"It's not enough to warrant a disaster," said farmer Greg Dell, of Dell Bros. Farms. The extra rain causes a powdery mildew to grow in the grain, he said. Affected crops will be used as feed.

Sun staff writers Amanda Crawford, Liz Kay, Dahlia Naqib and Nancy Youssef contributed to this article.

Cold and wet

July 2000 was the second coolest on record in Baltimore. But it is not the wettest July on record.

Coolest Julys

Year Average temp.

1891 71.6

2000 72.3*

1895 73.1

1962 73.6

1984 73.9

Normal 77.0

Wettest Julys

Year Rain totals

1889 11.03 inches

1905 10.65

1945 9.68

1884 9.43

1887 8.32

(2000) (4.49*)

Normal 3.69

* through Wednesday

SOURCE: National Weather Service

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