Weather Woes

July 07, 1993

Hazy, hot and humid. Sounds like a typical Baltimore summer day. But why does this heat wave seem more oppressive than usual? And why do those three words seem inadequate to describe the sticky air outside?

Those are questions we found a friend asking yesterday. Maybe he was exhausted after a weekend of sweating out otherwise festive Fourth of July cookouts (or were they saunas?). Maybe he's overdue for a week at the ocean or some time in the mountains of Western Maryland.

We don't have a cure, other than the requisite advice to drink extra water and take it easy. But we can offer some perspective. If we're tired of hot and humid weather, just think how tired our Midwestern cousins must be of rain.

For farmers in South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, the flooding of a 400-mile stretch of the upper Mississippi River is only the most recent of rain-related woes. The past eight months have been setting records for wetness, in some areas surpassing all records since 1872.

Corn that should be waist-high is barely grazing the ankles. Soybeans remain unplanted. And grain that should be traveling downriver is stranded while the Mighty Mississippi is too dangerous for commercial traffic.

Meanwhile, towns and cities are suffering as well. Factories are closed, roads are impassable and houses and businesses are being evacuated. President Clinton got a first-hand view of the damage this past weekend and promised federal aid to help the region recover from the worst flooding since 1965.

Still, federal aid can't make up all the losses, and Midwesterners will be talking about the floods of '93 for years to come.

Citizens of Davenport, Iowa, for instance, will be debating the wisdom of decisions in the early 1980s not to build a system of levees and seawalls when they were told by federal officials they would have to come up with 35 percent of the cost -- more than $11 million. That price tag may look cheap to residents now, as they face the loss of homes and businesses.

With more rainstorms forecast throughout this week, the flooding will continue. Midwesterners, no doubt, would be delighted to settle for a few days of Baltimore-style heat, haze and humidity.

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