Just a few days ago, the soil on the Richardsons' farm on the Eastern Shore and the Groves' farm in Western Maryland was the same, as dry and powdery as sand. The only difference now is that the Groves' soil is still that way.
A series of thunderstorms that swept across much of the state Monday night and yesterday brought relief to many farmers on the Eastern Shore, but very little rain to Western Maryland farmers suffering just as badly from a recent dry spell.
The Richardsons' 1,000-acre farm in the Wicomico County town of Willards got about a half inch of rain, enough to soak the soil and quench the thirst of the corn and soybeans -- at least for now, said Kay Richardson.
"Right now the crops are holding their own," said Mrs. Richardson. "The half inch of water will hold us for a little while."
But Keitha Grove said her farm got a hundredth of an inch of rain -- if that -- and the soil still slides out of her hand and hits the ground with a cloud of dust.
"The dust is unreal; the ground is cracked; it's just really dry," said Mrs. Grove, whose family grows corn and hay on a 400-acre farm in southHagerstown in Washington County.
The rain fell mostly in central and eastern Maryland, said Fred Davis, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
Along with relief for farmers, it brought a break from the sweltering heat of recent days. Yesterday's high temperature in Baltimore was 81 degrees, down from 91 degrees Monday and a record 100 degrees Sunday.
Forecasters said cooler temperatures should prevail for much of therest of the week, although highs are expected to creep back up into the 80s and 90s over the weekend.
The rainfall also brought its share of problems. About 6,600 homes and businesses, mostly in Baltimore County, were without power for parts of Monday and yesterday, said Art Slusark, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman.
Some 3,700 customers lost power during the storms, and about 2,900 lost power yesterday afternoon because of the winds and fallen tree limbs, he said. All the power was restored by 4 p.m. yesterday, Mr. Slusark said.
There also was minor flooding along the Sassafras River in Cecil County about 2 a.m. yesterday, state police said, but there were no road closures.
At 5 p.m. yesterday, College Park had reported 3.10 inches of rain, but police said there was no flooding or other problems associated with the rain. In other areas, Frederick reported 2.0 inches, Annapolis reported 1.62 inches and Baltimore-Washington International Airport reported .08 inches of rain.
More storms are being predicted by the National Weather Service throughout the state -- including Western Maryland -- over the next few days, Mr. Davis said.
"The corn is starting to show the stress, but it's hard to tell about the yield," Mrs. Grove said. "The corn will be shorter this year, but you never can tell."
The Eastern Shore and Western Maryland are some of the driest areas in the state, said Carroll Homann, statistician for the state Agriculture Department. Last week, most communities in those areas reported no rainfall and record-high temperatures.
"Any amount of rain, even this small amount, could keep the crops going for a while," he said. "But they really need about an inch a week for normal growing conditions."
The Eastern Shore areas are down an average of 2.5 inches of rainfall this year, and Western Maryland farms are down an average of 3.5 inches of rain, in some areas as much as 5 inches.
"The worst part is it's holding up some planting," said Tom Harr, who said he got 1.5 inches of rain on his 750-acre farm in Wicomico County.
Lack of rainfall seems likely to remain a problem, said Steve Tracton, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Climate Analysis Center.