Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance discusses the enormous amount of rain the Baltimore region has experienced this year. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
As Ian Kennedy walked his dog Tuesday morning, dodging deep puddles from yet another stretch of wet weather, he felt exhausted.
For months now, the rain has forced him to skip daily bike rides on roads and trails near his Columbia home, instead confining him to an indoor bike trainer. Scout, his family’s mutt, won’t go out when it’s pouring.
The rain has even interfered with his job as executive director of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission. It scared away crowds from movies and concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion, or drenched patrons as organizers struggled to adjust the gutter system on the amphitheater’s newly installed roof.
“I thought, ‘I am just done with this rain,’” the 41-year-old said. “I am done with it.”
The frustration is common around Maryland and much of the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s warranted — September isn’t even over, but the Baltimore region has eclipsed a century-old record for the wettest first nine months of the year, and is on pace for a new annual rainfall record. Through Tuesday, there have been about 53 inches of rain at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport this year, 11 inches more than the region gets in an entire year, on average.
The rain can be blamed for the deaths of at least two people, swept away by floodwaters in Ellicott City and Harford County, as well as tens of millions of dollars in damage and countless disruptions. It has allowed grass to grow and weeds to sprout, with little chance to mow them; it has canceled outdoor movies, festivals and baseball games; and it has fueled outbreaks of mold that have closed schools and dormitories.
Not to mention it’s a major downer, clinically speaking.
“The prolonged amount of rain and cloudiness that we’ve had, it’s probably, through some indirect ways, leading to lower moods,” said Jared McGinley, an assistant professor of psychology at Towson University.
It’s certainly been a bane to Ed Bernard, who was forced to stop mowing a median strip along Ritchie Highway on Tuesday as raindrops again began to fall.
“When it’s too wet, we can’t work,” said Bernard, who works for K.D. Faulkner Landscaping.
Meteorologists say the frequent stretches of rain are the product of frontal boundaries that have remained stubbornly draped over Maryland in recent months. Warm, moist air meets cooler air along those fronts, and when the air is pushed upward, the moisture it carries condenses and falls.
“There’s a lot of moisture around,” said Kyle Pallozzi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Baltimore/Washington forecast office.
Climate scientists say the pattern is to be expected as oceans warm, air becomes moister and storms move more slowly than in the past. Of course, it’s affecting not only Maryland — one rainfall expert said Tuesday that Hurricane Florence was the nation’s second-rainiest storm in 70 years, behind only Hurricane Harvey last year.
It has required some adjustments for anyone trying to spend time outdoors around Maryland this year.
Kathy Hornig, executive director of the Baltimore Office for the Promotion of the Arts, said she never looks at the weather forecast when planning an event such as Artscape, the free summer festival in Midtown. Whatever meteorologists predict, she can’t control it. But she suspects revelers were tuned in more than ever this summer, with strong crowds showing up during the rare moments when rain wasn’t falling during this year’s festival.
“We found our festival-goers maybe planning ahead, around the weather,” she said. “This may be our new normal.”
The Aberdeen IronBirds, a minor league affiliate of the Orioles, had to cancel four of their 38 home games this season because of rain, including the final matchup of the season at Ripken Stadium. And the team heard plenty of complaints about it from fans, said General Manager Matt Slatus.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” he said. “This year it was tougher than most to provide that entertainment.”
Without sunshine, the body doesn’t produce as much vitamin D, an important ingredient in the mood-raising chemical serotonin. At the same time, when rain limits outdoor recreation, that means the body isn’t producing endorphins. Cloudy conditions also hinder the brain’s ability to suppress melatonin, inducing more fatigue.
It’s almost as if the rainy stretch is mimicking fall and winter conditions that can trigger seasonal affective disorder, McGinley said — only this time, the seasonal depression could last most of the year.
It’s all too much for those like Kennedy. After so many bike rides indoors or through drizzle, he’s not looking forward to fall, typically one of his favorite times of year.
“It’s definitely affecting me,” he said. “It’s just, everything is 10 percent sadder, or 10 percent gloomier.”
The record rainfall and warm weather have allowed mold to thrive in some schools. At the University of Maryland, College Park, some students were moved to local hotels after mold was found in dorms, and in Baltimore about 30 city schools have been treated for mold since August.
Mold spores also have sprouted inside some Anne Arundel County Public Schools buildings, spokesman Bob Mosier said. The schools have addressed the growths as they’ve appeared.
“It’s an issue everywhere,” Mosier said. “We’re in a period of record rainfall ... and we came off of a period right at the end of the summer of record heat, and so those two things aren’t helpful for any building.”
A reprieve is expected to arrive Thursday and last through the weekend, with sunny skies and crisp mornings in the forecast. But before that, downpours could add further to mounting rainfall totals. And climate forecasts suggest a wet trend will continue across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast through the end of the year.
Three-quarters of the way through 2018, it has been Baltimore’s wettest start to any year on record — wetter than the first nine months of 1889, which included Pennsylvania’s deadly Johnstown flood; 1979, a year of record-setting snowfall and tropical rain; or 1933, when the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane hit, carving open Ocean City’s inlet.
The next record in sight is for the region’s wettest full year.
That mark belongs to 2003, with more than 62 inches of rain — 2018 is within 10 inches of matching it.
Ten inches also happens to be the average rainfall for the final three months of the year here.