Cool, wet summer wins place in history '96 was 5th-coldest in BWI recordkeeping

September 13, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Summer in Baltimore is supposed to be hot and steamy, like the crabs.

But not this year.

The National Weather Service is calling it a tie for the fifth-coolest summer in 47 years of recordkeeping at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. In fact, the hottest day of the year came in the spring, on May 20, when the airport high reached 94.

It was also wet, with 4 inches more rain than we had a right to expect. That would account for the lush weeds and green lawns, and for the scarcity of smog alerts.

There's still time for hot weather, of course. But as the first wave of autumn-like air sweeps through from Canada today, it should feel like the final curtain on the season.

You can probably yank the plug on the air conditioner. The forecast calls for highs today in the 70s. The weekend should bring highs of 65 to 75 degrees, with overnight lows in the 50s.

If you're headed for Western Maryland this weekend, take a jacket. Lows will be in the 40s.

Meteorologists are blaming the cool, wet weather on a persistent trough of low pressure over the eastern United States.

"We've had short periods when we've had a ridge [of high pressure] and things warmed up. But on the whole it's been fairly consistent for eight to 10 months," said Russell L. Martin, a meteorologist at the federal Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs.

It's the flip side of the hot, dry weather that has visited Western states with wildfires and drought.

The pattern is expected to persist a while longer, he said. Then it "may warm up here in the East a bit. Whether it will settle in is impossible to say."

Looking ahead to this winter, weather service computers see only a slight tilt toward warmer-than-normal temperatures along the Middle Atlantic coast, and no trend on snowfall.

Here's the box score for the summer in Baltimore, which the weather service regards as the months of June, July and August:

The average temperature was 73.5 degrees. That is 4.9 degrees below normal, and the fifth-coolest summer on record at BWI. Summers just as cool or cooler were recorded in 1962 (a tie with this year), 1972, 1982 and 1992 (tied with 1974).

The coolest summer on record at BWI was in 1958, when the average temperature was 73.1 degrees.

(The summer of 1958 felt a lot like this one. The newspapers then said the United States was worried about the government in Iraq; rescuers searched for an airliner that fell into the Atlantic; and Baltimoreans begged money for restoration of the leaky antique warship Constellation.)

Throughout all of June, July and August the high temperatures at BWI never topped 92 degrees. That saved us money. Baltimore Gas & Electric officials said residential electrical consumption this summer fell 7.8 percent from last year.

In all, there have been just 14 90-plus days this year. That compares with an annual average of 31. Last year there were 51 days that topped 90 degrees.

On July 18, Central Maryland began what would become a 36-day stretch without any 90-degree weather at the airport.

That's in stark contrast with 1995. On July 12 last year, we began a 25-day stretch when the high was at least 90 degrees -- the longest run of 90-degree weather on record at BWI.

Rainfall for the three summer months totaled 15.63 inches at BWI. That was 4.32 inches, or 38 percent, above normal for the period. We have already had two-thirds of the expected rainfall for September, and precipitation for the year is running 11 inches -- also 38 percent -- above normal.

The cool, rainy weather has helped to keep the air relatively smog-free. The Maryland Department of the Environment has reported only four "code red" days this summer (June 22, July 6 and 8, and Aug. 23). Those were days when the amount of ground-level ozone in the Baltimore region reached unhealthy levels.

Last year there were 14 "code red" alerts, in which people with breathing problems are urged to stay indoors, and others are asked to curtail their driving.

Unfortunately, the rain has also watered the weeds, producing a banner year for ragweed.

"I think we actually have a second crop," said Dr. Martin D. Valentine of the Maryland Asthma and Allergy Center in Baltimore.

The wet weather should generate a bumper crop of mold later this month, he said.

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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