Colder-than-normal winter seen treading on the heels of a crisp fall

October 14, 1992|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

Maryland's cool summer has slipped into a crisp fall, and the state appears headed for its first cold winter in several years, forecasters say.

Gloria Dilley, who works at the ranger station at the sprawling Green Ridge State Park in Allegany County, said that in recent years, hot autumn weather brought hordes of gnats and other bugs that annoyed pilgrims seeking the blazing colors of fall.

This year, she said, "it's pretty nice out here. It's not real hot. No bugs around. The wind's blowing . . . To me the last couple of falls weren't falls. This is fall."

Ms. Dilley said she's looking forward to a traditional extra-log-on-the-fire winter, too.

"We really haven't had the snow and cold that we were used to having, and that we should have," she said. "I hope we won't have to wait for January or February for snow. Give us some snow for Christmas."

She just might get her wish.

James Wagner, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service's Climate Analysis Center in Camp Springs, said the long spell of warmer-than-normal temperatures over North America began a "large-scale reversal" in late March.

Center forecasters are now predicting a 65 percent chance of cooler-than-normal temperatures for the 90-day period including October, November and December over most of the United States. The area includes the Midwest, the Rockies, the Northeast, the Gulf Coast and the Middle Atlantic states. Warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected only in Florida and California.

Forecasters also say there is a 55 percent chance of greater-than-normal rain and snow through Dec. 31 for the Middle Atlantic region, including Maryland.

In the contiguous 48 states, the summer of 1992 was the third coolest in the 98 years the National Weather Service has been keeping records, Mr. Wagner said. In the upper Chesapeake Bay region, including Maryland and Delaware, it was the fifth coolest summer on record.

Temperatures averaged up to 1.1 degrees cooler than normal in Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and the Washington suburbs, while they were normal in Central Maryland, according to the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

Fred Davis of the National Weather Service office at Baltimore-Washington International Airport said the first 12 days of October averaged 3 degrees below normal.

"It's been fairly decent," he said. "We've had normal daytime temperatures in the low 70s recently, although we had one stretch of four or five days where we stayed in the 60s." Mr. Wagner said several factors point to lower temperatures this season. They include early snowfalls in Alaska, a series of wintry salvos from Canada that have already dusted parts of the upper Midwest with snow, cool sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific and the lingering effects of Mount Pinatubo.

"The most reliable other predictor for cold is this simple persistence -- it's been cold in the middle of the country and at this time of the year, all things being equal, it means it's likely to continue to be cold," Mr. Wagner said.

Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, erupted on June 16, 1991, shooting a mammoth cloud of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere. There, the cloud became a mist of sulfuric acid that has drifted over the globe. It is reflecting incoming sunlight, lowering average global temperatures by between 1 degree and 1.5 degrees.

It isn't clear what contribution, if any, Pinatubo made to the recent cool weather. Scientists can't directly measure its effect on specific regions as small as North America.

But the volcano helped persuade specialists that other signs pointing to a cooling trend were right.

One sign was an "unusually early and heavy snowfall" in Alaska, where some weather stations recorded a foot or more of snow and the coldest September on record.

"Usually you don't get snow staying on the ground up there until sometime in October," Mr. Wagner said. "When cold air comes down into the rest of the United States from that area, it will be colder than it would normally be this early in the season."

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