Warmth of a gentle breeze Weather: With another month before winter gives way to spring, unseasonable temperatures conjure up visions of summer.

February 20, 1997|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Elizabeth Courtney resides in Florida, but yesterday Annapolis was the only place she wanted to be.

Courtney moved from Maryland 10 years ago and is back in town this week for a wedding. Instead of being stuck by a fireplace as she had in winters past, yesterday Courtney sat on a bench by the water basking in the sunlight and record high temperatures. She was hardly alone.

The dock at Annapolis had a summer feel, as did Harborplace in Baltimore. Golfers flocked to the links. College students sprawled on their campus quads and broke out the flying discs and hacky sacks.

It was spring in February.

"We've been gone for a long time, and this feels like the weather we have now" in Florida, Courtney said. "This is the place you want to be on a day like this. It's very pretty. It brings back a lot of memories. It feels nice to be back home again."

Courtney's timing was impeccable. The temperature reached a high of 73 degrees in Baltimore yesterday, breaking the previous high of 69 degrees set in 1951. According to the National Weather Service, the average February high temperature in Baltimore is about 44 degrees and the average low is about 26.

But January and February have been much warmer than usual, with January temperatures surging into the 60s several times.

So rather than eat lunch in the cafeteria, a group of elementary school students carried their Barbie and Barney lunch boxes to the lawn around St. Anne's Church in downtown Annapolis to enjoy the weather. A rousing game of duck-duck-goose followed.

Almost every shop door was propped open to capture the gentle breeze. The sea gulls by the water congregated around children with bread scraps as if they hadn't been fed in months. The bathing suits and surfboards in a store window looked oddly appropriate. The birds seemed to chirp a bit louder.

Tim Hutcherson, manager of the Ben and Jerry's ice cream store near the water, said he can only remember a handful of winter days this pleasant, and he hopes to profit from it.

Sales increase

"We've definitely done a little better than usual," Hutcherson said. "We expect to do very good by the time we close today. Usually weekdays aren't so good in the winter. It's tough to be stuck in here, but I'll get my chance to enjoy the weather."

Hutcherson can thank a high pressure system that moved north from the Gulf Coast for yesterday's sales increase. The lingering system should keep temperatures in the lower 50s for the next few days.

That's not such good news for Jennifer Curreri, who has the challenge of trying to sell coffee at a Vaccaro's stand in Harborplace. Curreri seemed to have more requests for bottled water than hot coffee yesterday. Trouble is she doesn't sell bottled water.

"This is definitely slow," she said. "I'd much rather be in here on days when it's busy than have nothing to do and not be able to enjoy it outside."

If the waterfalls on Pratt Street were running and a crowd was cheering at Camden Yards, it could have passed for a summer day downtown.

People were piled in line waiting to enjoy summer seafood cuisine at Phillips. Benches, wall tops and steps were full with workers enjoying their lunch in the breeze. Three blenders loaded with fruit shakes were churning at once to accommodate the crowd.

Charles Wilson was one of many extending their lunch break to take in the scenery. Wilson said he normally works out in the afternoon but couldn't pass up a chance to sip a soda and gaze at the harbor from the second-floor of the Light Street Pavilion.

"You can put the groundhog back in the ground, this is spring," Wilson said. "You have to take advantage of weather like this. But it's a mixed thing when you start to think about it.

"We must have really messed up the environment to have the seasons this sporadic. It's terrific weather, but it's kind of sad when you think about it."

Said Fred Gadomski, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University: "Nothing about the weather patterns, when I analyze them, makes me say, 'Oh my god, I can't believe it.' It's just a warm southwesterly flow.

"That it has been mild this winter compared to last winter is stunning, but it's not going be one of the mildest winters ever."

Golfers around the state merely thanked Mother Nature for the fluky weather.

Towson State senior Mike Gately was sitting in class watching students flock to "the beach," an outdoor hangout in the center of campus. Eventually, Gately got sick of watching his shorts-wearing peers frolic in the sunlight and decided to have some fun of his own. Gately blew off his last class and headed for the greens.

'Golf or class?'

"I was getting spring fever just looking out the window," Gately said. "After a while I couldn't take it anymore. Sometimes you have to make a stand. Golf or class? It's not that hard of a decision."

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