Parched state gets a sip

Drought: Despite yesterday's storm, the region remains well below normal rainfall levels.

August 25, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Recent rains have brought temporary relief to many drought-stricken parts of Maryland, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday he has no plans to roll back mandatory water restrictions any time soon.

The 1.43 inches of rain that fell early yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport are a drop in the bucket compared with what is needed to end the region's drought, state officials and weather experts said.

"As far as the drought is concerned, this is helpful, but on a large scale it doesn't change much of anything," said Howard Silverman, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

The region needs more than a foot of rain to catch up to normal rainfall levels for this year, he said. Rainfall at BWI the past 12 months is down 13.8 inches from the normal yearly average of 40.76 inches, he said. The region's rainfall deficit last year was 6.36 inches.

Silverman said more rain is in the forecast, with a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms for much of Maryland today and Thursday, and rain possible through the weekend.

"Since we're dealing with thunderstorms, one area could get an inch or so, while another could get next to nothing," Silverman said.

Glendening said the recent rains have headed off any need to impose tighter water restrictions in "the immediate future." But he said restrictions imposed Aug. 4 need to stay in effect.

Glendening said reservoir and river levels remain low, and September and October are typically the state's driest months. "We must keep the mandatory restrictions in place until we receive extraordinarily large amounts of rainfall, and after we are sure that we have survived the driest months of the year," he said.

Mike Morrill, a spokesman for the governor, said a few days of rain are simply not enough to solve the drought problem. He said it would "take a tropical storm's worth of rain" to bring the state back to normal.

"It wasn't one week that brought us to this drought. It was three years of dry weather culminating in a summer of really dry weather that brought us to this point," Morrill said.

The rains fell as the Glendening administration released the latest figures on water consumption around the state, which showed average daily water use was down 12.9 percent last week -- within the 10 percent to 15 percent range of reduction sought by officials.

Silverman said one problem with summertime storm fronts such as yesterday's is that rainfall can vary widely over areas a few miles apart.

A quarter-inch of rain fell in Finksburg in Carroll County and 0.53 inches at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, while 1.43 inches fell at BWI and 1.89 inches at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, he said.

Silverman also said evaporation rates are high in the summer, which means much of the rain that falls gets soaked back up into the atmosphere and doesn't help much in replenishing aquifers.

"Some of it will be absorbed by the soil, which will help some vegetation, but some of it came down so quickly it wound up in storm drains," Silverman said.

Royden N. Powell III, an assistant secretary in the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said soil in Maryland usually can absorb about one-quarter inch of rain an hour. Anything more than that runs off into storm sewers and streams, he said.

Powell said the front that moved through early yesterday brought several hours of soaking rainfall -- the kind the state needs -- rather than a sudden downpour.

"We need about 72 more" rainfalls of that kind, he said.

Donald H. Vandrey, a state Agriculture Department spokesman, said the rainfall would help farmers with late-season hay production, but occurred too late to help with most crops.

"There's marginal benefit because most of your crops are already beyond recovery," Vandrey said. "They've reached the stage where the damage is already done." At Cranberry Meadow Farm north of Westminster, Doug Dell said this week's rain won't make a difference for his damaged crops. "There's no way it can make up what was lost," he said.

But Dell said, "It's going to make a difference for the crops we planted later in the season -- the corn and soybeans."

Sun staff writers Joel McCord and Anne Haddad contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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