We Made It

March 20, 1994

Like Times Square on New Year's Eve, you can start the vernal equinox countdown today. 3:26 p.m. . . . 3:27. . . 3:28. . . It's spring.

According to the calendar, the winter of '94 is over -- at last. Yes, wind-chill readings may still dip into the teens as they did last week. We could get snowed on yet again. But psychologically, we've reached port. We're beginning to smell the soil, and see buds and talk baseball. Not too many weeks ago, while negotiating icy streets as if we were driving hum-vees around a mine field, it seemed today would never come.

Of course, winter's fallout will linger long after the fallen snow and even the sand, slag and salt stains have disappeared. Many retailers and restaurateurs took an awful hit in the first quarter; some might not recover. State tax receipts for January alone were down 8 percent for clothing and more than 4 percent for general merchandise. February's sales-tax figures aren't in yet, but we suspect they will be off, too (except for snow plow operators, heating contractors and the like).

Public works departments struggled trying to neutralize those storms that made this winter one of the coldest and wettest on record. Spring flooding is a greater threat along the Susquehanna River. Educators and parents are wringing their hands over how to make up all those snow days. Some families must cope with the injuries and deaths borne by this treacherous winter.

Through this bleak wintry landscape, though, crocuses of optimism peak through. For instance, the Baltimore Zoo closed 31 days over the winter compared to just five last year but its attendance was up 4,000 visitors. Zoo officials attribute that anomaly to the herd of folks who flocked to Druid Hill Park on the few decent weekends to cure their cabin fever. The travel industry seemed to fare well, too, serving all those Sunbelt escapists.

Perhaps these are signs that we have not only shed the oppressive cloak of this winter, but of the economic chills that preceded it.

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