Shortage of barbecues, abundance of umbrellas

Soggy holiday weekend sends many indoors

some sun likely today

May 29, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Look on the bright side: At least the UVA index is low.

Indeed, there were no sunburns this Memorial Day weekend, as gray skies and rain showers stretched from Saturday into today around Baltimore and the beaches on the Eastern Shore, making the unofficial kickoff to the summer season something of a downer.

Backyard barbecues were fewer. Lines for indoor attractions were longer. Andrain jackets and umbrellas were far more appropriate gear than bikinis and beach towels.

Niamh McQuillan and her daughter, Bronwin McQuillan-Dunk, 7, of Idlewilde braved the rain for a trip with neighborhood friends to the Baltimore Zoo, where a new wart hog exhibit opened.

"The best time to come to the zoo is when it's raining," said McQuillan, standing in between exhibits housing the snow leopards and the peacocks.

"All the animals come out when it's raining," explained Bronwin, whose pool party scheduled for Saturday, her birthday, had to be moved inside because of the weather. "And there's no people."

The holiday might be salvaged yet. Today's forecast calls for a chance of rain in the morning followed by partial clearing in the afternoon, with highs in the upper 60s.

"I think if your friends are coming over [this] afternoon, it won't be bad at all," said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

A record 34.4 million Americans had been expected to travel during the three-day weekend, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. Despite gas prices averaging $1.57 a gallon locally -- nearly 50 cents more than last year -- most hit the road.

About 350,000 vehicles were expected to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in both directions between Friday and today. Maryland Transportation Authority officials yesterday said travel was heavier than normal on Thursday -- possibly because vacationers anticipating a sunny Friday and the subsequent soggy forecast wanted to get an early start.

Though lifeguards were on duty in Ocean City beginning Saturday, not many people were to be found lounging on the beach. Only the bravest entered the water.

"The water temperature is about 55 degrees, so it's a little cold," conceded Sgt. Tim Uebel, of the Ocean City Beach Patrol.

Some die-hards were determined to sit by the surf -- if not swim in it.

"They come to Ocean City, they'll sit on the beach," Uebel said. "No matter what the weather, they'll sit there. They need their beach time."

The wet weather made many indoor attractions more popular.

"We've been a lot busier because of it being overcast," said Michele Davis, manager of Carmike Gold Coast 4 in Ocean City, as she sold tickets to a long line of moviegoers trying to catch a late-morning matinee.

At the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the National Aquarium was so busy that people waiting to buy tickets in the middle of the afternoon weren't being allowed inside until 6 p.m.

The World War II submarine Torsk seemed to have a steady flow of visitors. By about 3: 30 p.m., 632 people had gone on board.

"I'll bet we get up to 800 people," said Eric Head, seaport guide for the Baltimore Maritime Museum, who was taking tickets. "I'm out here in 100-degree heat and when it's 20 degrees, so I'm used to it [bad weather]."

In Baltimore on a trip combining business and pleasure, Bob Schramm and Steve Schaber of Chicago spent the day sightseeing. In addition to touring the Torsk, they ate lunch in Little Italy and visited Fort McHenry and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney, where a wreath-laying in honor of veterans took place Saturday.

Schramm saw the rain as a kind of natural crowd control.

"It's great at holding the crowds down," he said. "We just hope our flight isn't canceled tonight going back to Chicago."

Yesterday afternoon's Orioles game against the Oakland Athletics was rained out, but other events went on as scheduled. Concertgoers at the HFStival at FedEx Field -- an annual all-day event featuring lots of music and equal amounts of revelry -- escaped the rain altogether.

Woodcock, of the National Weather Service, said rainfall at Baltimore-Washington International Airport has been below normal this month, but slightly above normal for the year.

"We want to get into a surplus because typically you run into a deficit in the summer months," he said. "Farmers need the rain."

According to Alicia Brown of Pikesville, who visited the zoo yesterday with her boyfriend, Jacques Smith, and nieces Brittany Caster and Jene Brooks, ages 8 and 5, everyone else needs it, too.

"If you don't have these bad days," she said, "you can't appreciate the sunny ones."

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