East and West, it's turned into a wet winter

March 06, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

Winter turned on the taps across the United States this year, bringing record-breaking rain to the desert Southwest and wetter-than-normal weather to the rest of the country.

The lower 48 states also saw their coldest December, January and February in nine years, said Richard R. Heim Jr., a meteorologist with the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The season broke a string of seven wimpy winters with above-normal temperatures.

While Maryland also got drenched, temperatures were warmer here than normal.

Fred Davis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said airport temperatures averaged about 5 degrees above normal for December through February and precipitation about a half-inch above normal.

M. Bruce West, crop statistician for the state's Department of Agriculture, said, "There's probably a buildup of soil moisture throughout most of the state."

January was particularly balmy. Temperatures at BWI averaged 5.2 degrees above normal; Hagerstown 6.8 degrees above; Bel Air 7.8 degrees above, and Upper Marlboro 7.1 degrees above. February was cooler than normal statewide, mostly due to a cold snap in the last week.

The season has been stingy with snow in the Baltimore area. But our portion is still more generous than in recent years.

A total of 11.7 inches fell at BWI Airport up to Feb. 28. About 4 inches fell last year and 9.4 inches the year before that. The average is 16.1 inches.

But winter's pantry may not be empty yet. Mr. Davis pointed out that, in the past 30 years, the airport has averaged 3.6 inches of snow in March.

Maryland wasn't alone in side-stepping the worst of the winter weather. The Eastern and Southern United States generally basked in mild temperatures.

Meanwhile, the West shivered. Washington, Oregon and Idaho had their fourth-coldest season since record-keeping began in 1895.

Alan N. Basist, a research meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, said the storms that raked the United States were spawned by El Nino, a warming of the surface waters of the eastern tropical Pacific. The event pumps huge amounts of moisture into the atmosphere and influences global wind patterns.

El Nino's moisture brought flooding to California, and the wettest winter on record to the region including Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

The current El Nino began in the fall of 1991 and seemed spent by last October. But it rallied in early November, and a mild El Nino condition is now expected to last through May.

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