The parched state of Maryland

September 14, 1995

Parts of Maryland haven't had rain in nearly 40 days and 40 nights, since Aug. 6, and the lack of moisture is taking its toll. Soybeans and corn are burning up in the fields. Even the most carefully maintained lawns have taken on a brown tinge. Many trees -- usually covered with a late summer growth of deep green leaves -- prematurely have taken on fall colors of yellow, red and brown.

The record dry spell has hit hardest on the Eastern Shore, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologists consider that part of the state to be in extreme drought. Some farmers are reporting losses of 50 to 85 percent of their soybean and corn crops. Central and northeastern counties are also experiencing extreme drought. Western Maryland is listed as having a mild to moderate drought.

The dry conditions could not have come at a worse time. During August, when three inches of precipitation normally falls, some areas didn't have enough rainfall to measure. The lack of moisture in August -- and now September -- only compounds what already has been a very dry year. Annual rainfall at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum is normally about 40 inches. With 1995 nearly three-quarters gone, we've received half that total.

Concerned by record levels of water consumption, some towns are asking residents to cut back on water use. In Carroll, the town government of Hampstead has asked residents to refrain from watering lawns and washing cars until the drought ends. In Harford County, the Maryland-American Water Co., a private company that serves about 13,200 customers in Bel Air and parts of Fallston and Forest Hill, imposed mandatory restrictions on watering lawns and shrubs, washing cars and other non-essential uses. Violators are subject to fines or a cutoff of water. Thanks to Baltimore's large system of reservoirs, customers in the city, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties have not had to curtail water consumption yet.

Howard farmers, particularly those who planted late season corn, will have small harvests. Others have been able to salvage their vegetable and melon crops by irrigating. Meanwhile, some retailers are reporting record sales of sprinklers and hoses.

As long as the jet stream is confined to the higher latitudes around Canada and some of the low pressure systems from the Mississippi Valley head north of Maryland, the dry conditions will endure. Some showers hit the area last night, but we need a soaking.

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