Like the weather? Just wait a minute Unseasonable warmth accompanied by hail, winds, rain, sunshine

January 10, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

It was the typical spring thaw: Hardly anyone burned heating oil, roses were in bloom, air conditioners churned, people wore T-shirts on the street and humidity caused bad hair days from Essex to Edgewater.

What's wrong with this picture?

It's January.

At a time of year when high temperatures normally average 40 degrees, a warm front from the west brought highs to Baltimore ranging from 62 on Wednesday to 68 on Sunday, 1 degree shy of the 1930 record.

Yesterday even boasted a summer squall.

"I just got back from Uruguay, where it was in the mid-90s every day," said Mark G. Ferguson, who serves cappuccino at Starbucks in Mount Washington.

"I was worried I'd come back to find snow on the ground, so I brought as much warm weather back as I could fit in my bag."

City workers spent the week planting trees.

"It's usually not safe to plant after Dec. 15," said Marion Bedingfield of the city forestry division. "But we were planting hardwoods and evergreens all week, mostly in parks. Thelast load of street trees we did were red maples."

Said Roger Michel, a financial adviser with Legg Mason: "It's a gift to be able to go out running in short pants in January. I couldn't resist going out to run, like a kid playing hooky."

While most of the week was extraordinarily mild, yesterday had moments that were flat-out weird.

"I woke up, and it was cloudy; by 10 a.m. the sun was out," reported Darcel Guy, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman.

"A little after 11, it got extremely dark, and then the wind started gusting. You could hear windows rattling and then heavy rains."

Shoppers in Roland Park said that before the rain swept in, hail pounded the streets and large snowflakes fell.

L "Then it moved through," said Guy, "and it was sunny again."

The rain was part of a huge storm that stretched from Mississippi to Quebec and caused at least 10 deaths nationwide and flooding in Western Maryland.

Mild temperatures were dropping toward normal last night. It was 41 degrees downtown at midnight.

"You get something like this once a year, although this was much earlier and much warmer," said forecaster Jim DeCarufel. "We're not likely to get another one this year."

Could it be blamed on the storied El Nino?

"It's hard to tell," said DeCarufel.

It wasn't hard to tell that business was off at the A-1 Fuel company on Highland Avenue in East Baltimore, where normal January deliveries of heating oil were down from about 40 calls a day to a half-dozen or so.

"People got their furnace off," said Eleanor Grady, who owns A-1 with her husband.

"The only people buying oil are the ones who keep ahead of schedule on everything and don't want to be caught short when the streets are icy and we can't get through the alleys.

"But this is just a reprieve. Wait till it gets cold again -- they'll be screaming for oil."

Pub Date: 1/10/98

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