What next year's weather will bring is anyone's guess


December 31, 1991|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Evening Sun Staff

It may be cold and damp tonight as you usher out 1991. But the weatherman says that, on average, it's been another very warm and dry year for Central Maryland.

In fact, 1991 was the second-warmest year -- and the third-driest -- in 41 years of record-keeping at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The warmest ever was just last year.

"The '90s are starting off just like the '80s," said Fred Davis, chief meteorologist at BWI for the National Weather Service. The 1980s, too, were unusually warm and dry.

Nobody's ready to call it evidence of global warming, he said. That would require a lot more global data. But, for Central Maryland, at least, "it looks like the trends are certainly there."

In its 90-day prognostication, the weather service's Climate Analysis Center yesterday placed Maryland on the border between a warmer-than-normal zone to the north and a cooler-than-normal zone to the south.

"The 50 percent line goes straight through Maryland, so it should be very close to normal," said Huug Van Den Dool, chief of the agency's predictions branch in Camp Springs.

The precipitation forecast is much the same, he said, with Maryland sandwiched between dry weather to the north and wet weather to the south.

But even normal would be a change for Marylanders.

Temperatures at BWI averaged 57.7 degrees for the year, just short of the 57.9-degree record set in 1990.

"Normal" for the airport is 55.1 degrees. But it's been warmer than that in seven of the past 12 years, and never more than a half-degree cooler.

"Every month in 1991 was above normal except November," Davis said. And November was only 0.5 degree below normal. The unbroken string of relatively warm months stretches back to October 1990 -- 13 straight months of above-average temperatures in all.

There were no single-digit temperatures in 1991, Davis said. The coldest day was Jan. 23, when it chilled to 12 degrees.

The month most dramatically out of line was May, when temperatures averaged 70.6 degrees, or 7.2 degrees above normal.

The summer that followed was the hottest on record at the Custom House in downtown Baltimore, averaging 81.5 degrees in June, July and August. It tied with 1988 for the hottest summer at the airport.

The hottest day of the year at BWI fell on July 23, when it reached a record 102 degrees. It was 104 degrees downtown on July 21, tying a record.

Demand for electrical power during that heat wave surged to 5,910 megawatts on July 23, up almost 10 percent from the previous high in 1990.

But Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. avoided the brownouts of 1990, helped by the return of both Calvert Cliffs nuclear plants to service, and the start-up of the new, 642-megawatt Brandon Shores II coal-fired generator.

The hot summer, combined with a lack of rain across most of Maryland, devastated pasture and croplands, costing farmers $75 million to $100 million in crop damage. Most of the state's counties were declared drought disaster areas, making affected farmers eligible for low-cost loans and other federal aid.

Since 1980, Maryland farmers have enjoyed only three years -- 1983, 1989 and 1990 -- in which precipitation has surpassed the 41.84-inch average at BWI.

The outgoing year brought just 30.16 inches of precipitation, nearly 12 inches below normal.

It was the third-driest year on record at the airport. The driest was 1954, when just 27.89 inches were recorded, followed by 1965, with 28.22 inches.

The drought also threatened water supplies and contributed to several serious forest fires last fall in parts of Allegany, Frederick and Garrett counties.

The dry weather has had its benefits, however. Snowfall has been scant in recent years.

The last significant snow came from a pair of storms last Jan. 7 and Jan. 11. Each dropped 2.1 inches at the airport, and more in some other parts of the state.

The airport has recorded snowfall above the 21.3-inch average in only three seasons since 1980. The last was in 1986-87, when 35.2 inches fell.

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