Spring Soaking

March 25, 1993|By David Michael Ettlin and Douglas Birch | David Michael Ettlin and Douglas Birch,Staff Writers Staff writers Frank Roylance and Alisa Samuels contributed to this article.

Reservoirs are full or overflowing, and rivers and creeks are cresting near flood levels. Farmers who prayed for rain in recent years have had to delay their spring planting because the fields are too wet.

With a week remaining, an unseasonably cold March already has broken a record for precipitation -- the combined effect of the Blizzard of '93 and heavy rains.

"We're getting January in March," said Wayne C. McGinnis, who farms about 1,200 acres in the White Hall section of Baltimore County.

Normally, he would be in the fields now, planting some oats and spreading fertilizer on cornfields and pasture. The wheat and barley should be greening up, ready for the fertilizer. And the first corn should be planted in a few weeks.

"Some places have got snow, other places it's just plain mud. It's going to be a good while before the snow gets all melted, [let alone] being dry enough to work in the ground"

Harold L. Clark, director of the 400-member Howard County Farm Bureau, who raises grain and cattle on 600-plus acres in Glenelg, said, "It's put us way behind."

But even with worries that delayed plaintings might reduce yields, Mr. Clark said he wouldn't complain: "Two years ago we were begging for rain."

More than an inch of rain since Tuesday pushed the month's precipitation total at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to 7.47 inches -- flooding over the record of 6.80 inches set in 1953 and matched in 1983, but still short of the decade-old, thunderstorm-swollen Baltimore record of 9.76 inches.

Ken Shaver, a National Weather Service forecaster at BWI, noted that temperatures reached 60 yesterday, not felt since Jan. 4.

"To get through almost the whole month without hitting 60 is almost unheard of," he said.

The strange weather has been felt from the mountains of Garrett County, where the blizzard's 30-inch snowfall was the icing on a cold winter cake of more than 140 inches, to the rain-soaked Eastern Shore.

Flood warnings were in effect yesterday for several Western Maryland waterways, but forecasters said that flooding there and elsewhere would be relatively minor.

Portions of the Potomac River were expected to crest at 19 feet this morning -- 4 feet above flood stage. Other waterways over or nearing flood stages included Conococheague and Antietam creeks in Washington County.

Baltimore's three reservoirs, which can hold 86 billion gallons, were near or above capacity.

The water level at Prettyboy Reservoir was 521 feet, a foot above crest, the point where water spills over the dam. At Loch Raven Reservoir, the level was 242 feet, 2 feet above crest. Liberty Reservoir held 418 feet, 2 feet below crest.

M. Bruce West, state Department of Agriculture chief crop statistician, said ground water probably is fully recharged and farm fields well prepared for spring planting.

"Statewide we've got plenty of moisture," he said.

In well-drained fields, the abundant moisture probably will raise crop yields significantly, he said. But he noted that a continuation of heavy rains could delay planting.

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