Winter wimped out, was wet but warm Weather: Records for December through February support the notion that the season has been unusually mild in Central Maryland.

March 06, 1997|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Weather statisticians have confirmed what most Marylanders already knew: The winter of 1997 turned out wet and mild. And that meant the snow -- Baltimore's White Terror -- was scarce and, well, decorative.

"We did have several storms that came through, but it wasn't cold enough to be in frozen form," said Melody Hall, a service hydrologist at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va., office.

Too bad. "Some people like it," she said of the sort of snow and ice that gripped the region last year, but turned up missing this time. Some even bought snow blowers and four-wheel-drive vehicles to be ready for this winter's worst.

It never came. Salt in the highway sheds is still piled high, budgets for plowing and salting are still in the black, and the schools have snow days to spare.

The ice and snow that accumulated at Baltimore-Washington International Airport totaled 12.7 inches through February.

That compares with a 30-year average of 22 inches at the airport. By the beginning of March last year, the total accumulation was crowding 60 inches.

The biggest snowfalls at BWI this season were 2.4 inches Jan. 9, 2 inches Jan. 11 and 5.8 inches Feb. 8.

Officially, winter doesn't end until 3: 03 a.m. March 20. But for climatologists, the show closed Feb. 28. And the 90-day forecast does not mention ice and snow.

"We're looking at temperatures near normal, and precipitation near normal" for the spring months of March, April and May, Hall said.

Normal highs for March are around 54. The normal lows are now above freezing. Average precipitation would mean a little more than 3 inches each month.

Richard Tinker, a meteorologist at the weather service's Climate Predictions Center, said a recurring ridge of high pressure in the western Atlantic kept cold and storms bottled up to the west and north.

"It was really the same sort of pattern that helped give us a lot of snow last year. It just shifted to the west," he said. "So, the storms stayed inland, and milder air moved into the Southeast and East."

It wasn't something anyone had forecast.

In November, the National Weather Service sifted through all its historical records, computer models and analyses of the Pacific Ocean's "El Nino" heating patterns that influence our weather.

It found no indicators strong enough to support any solid predictions for this region.

The less scientific Old Farmer's Almanac went astray with its forecast of a colder and snowier winter than normal. The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack got it partly right, predicting a winter "shorter, colder but less snowy than last winter."

The winter box score for BWI:

Mild. Temperatures averaged 37.8 degrees in December, January and February, well above the seasonal norm of 34.4 degrees.

Three record highs were set at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. On Jan. 3, the mercury reached 67 degrees, XTC snapping the old record for the date of 61 degrees, set in 1950. Two days later it was 69 degrees, edging out the 68-degree record, also set in 1950.

The high of 76 degrees on Feb. 27 broke the previous record for that date, 73 degrees, set in 1977.

There were no record lows all winter. In fact, there were just six days -- all in January -- when the temperature reached single digits. The coldest day was Jan. 19, when it sank to 1 degree at BWI.

The coldest temperature in February was 27 degrees, on the 10th.

It was wet, on average. If all the snow and ice were melted and added to the rain, it would total 11.85 inches, topping the seasonal average of 9.58 inches. The excess all fell in December. January and February were drier than normal.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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