Yes, It's Rare No, It's Not Over

February 10, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin

Is this the worst winter ever?

"It's the worst I've seen here in 25 years," said Ken Shaver, a veteran forecaster at the National Weather Service's regional office at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Fred Davis, the office's chief meteorologist, said that he is afraid to mention his job when he hears people talking about their weather woes in the supermarket checkout lines.

But Mr. Davis was not ready to say "worst ever."

"Winter's not over," he said. "We can't compare half a winter to whole winters we've had before."

But he was ready with a few statistical observations about how strange it has been -- such as the temperature gap of nearly 50 degrees yesterday morning between Norfolk, Va., and Wilmington, Del. While it was 70 in the port city near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the temperature in Wilmington, a little more than 200 miles north, was 21.

Maryland remained caught in the middle, in the second day of the fifth ice storm since Jan. 4.

"I checked the last three winters. We had a total of four ice storms in all those winters combined," Mr. Davis said. "We average one to two a year." In a three-year period, you might have four or five."

The ice of 1994, unlike that of recent years, also seems to be lingering. "In February of '92 we had one [ice storm] and had 51 degrees the next day. In January of '91 we had 46 degrees the next day. December 1990, it didn't warm up right away. Two days later we had 68."

Mr. Davis compared that quick warming with the ice storm on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Jan. 17, when "we had four days of freezing weather -- well below freezing -- after that."

"This season has not only been different for the amount of ice storms . . . we looked at the timing. They're all coming at the morning commute or the evening commute. They've all hit at an inopportune time. Six hours of commuting time -- you might think some would hit a little after midnight."

Not all the storms have hit at rush hour in the Baltimore area, however. But the ice storm of Jan. 26 nailed the Easton area, sending hundreds of cars skidding off the road and sending an overflow crowd of the injured to area hospitals.

Except for the week of Jan. 17, temperatures have not been extremely cold -- just cold enough in the lower atmosphere and at ground level to turn rain into ice.

"We've been between 25 and 30 temperatures this whole event," Mr. Davis said of the ice storm that began Tuesday. "In the January event, we were getting rain at 17 degrees."

Mr. Davis said people have been calling the weather office wanting to know when it would end. "They're saying they wish they would get a snowstorm instead of all this ice -- Baltimore people, wishing for a snowstorm."

Will they get that wish?

"I think we'll get one before the season is over," he said. "We've got a month and a half left."

That's a cheery thought.

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