Bumper crops no sweat this year

Cool, wet summer helps farmers, cuts air conditioning bills

September 02, 2000|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

This year, the corn really is as high as an elephant's eye. And that's not the only happy news at the close of this rare Maryland summer of rain and blessedly cool nights.

While farmers look forward to what could be a record corn harvest, and a near-record soy bean harvest this fall, Marylanders can anticipate an especially colorful autumn foliage season, thanks to the cool, moist summer weather.

And everyone who uses electricity to cool their home or business has also reaped a bonus this summer. The number of cooling degree-days, a measure of the demand for power for air conditioning, was down 23 percent this summer in the Baltimore region.

"I haven't had an electric bill over $50 this summer," said National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Woodcock. "The weatherman's happy about that."

The best news may be that weather forecasters say there is little correlation between weather in the summer and in the following winter.

In other words, the cool, wet summer does not necessarily foreshadow a cold, snowy winter.

It does, however foreshadow a wet Labor Day weekend. The weather service predicted a chance of showers or thunderstorms for most of Maryland each day through Monday, with highs in the 80s.

"There will be more clouds than sun, and it will be kind of sticky," said meteorologist Paul G. Knight, of the Penn State Weather Communications Group. He blamed "a pesky large upper-level low pressure system."

It may rain 20 percent of the weekend, he said, but it will look threatening half the time.

Forecasters are predicting more of the same weather for the fall.

Some places may be getting an early frost," Knight said, "an early taste of autumn in late September or early October. And it could get wet at times, in some places very wet."

It's like we've been living in Seattle.

Ninety-degree days were scarce, with just five in June, and one each in July and August - the three months that meteorologists regard as summer.

Cool nights chilled the bed covers during each month this summer. Low temperatures fell into the 50s on 10 days in June, three in July and five in August.

June, July and August averaged 2.2 degrees below normal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

While June was slightly warmer than the 30-year average, July was the second-coolest on record, 4.3 degrees below normal. August ended about 2.4 degrees below normal.

More than 5 1/2 inches of rain fell in June and again in July at BWI, for a total of 3.84 inches more rain than normal. August was actually a bit dry, with 3.18 inches falling, short of the 3.9-inch norm. Far higher rain totals may have been recorded in localities swept by severe thunderstorms.

More than the amount of rain that fell this summer, it was the persistence of the rainy weather that seemed often to dampen the summer spirit.

There were 37 dry days among the 92 days from June 1 to Aug. 31. That compares with 58 dry days during the drought-plagued summer of 1999.

The longest dry spell all season at BWI was a five-day stretch from June 7-11.

July brought no more than two consecutive dry days. August then provided a welcome, 17-day stretch, from Aug. 10 through Aug. 26, when just 0.36 inches of rain fell at BWI.

The persistent showers helped the invasive Asian tiger mosquito breed into clouds of torment that drove families indoors during the daytime in parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

But the weather was a boon out on the farm.

"The corn is looking superb," said state Department of Agriculture spokesman Tony Evans. "We may set an all-time yield record for corn. They're predicting 150 bushels per acre. Last year in the drought they got only 93."

The only problems, he said, are prices, which he called "abominable" at $2 a bushel, and the threat that a tropical storm might blow the heavily burdened stalks over before they can be harvested.

Soy beans are expected to come in at 36 bushels an acres, just short of the record 37 bushels set in 1996. Wheat and barley, hay, fruits and vegetables all look good, Evans said, although the heavy rains have cut the sweetness of the state's melons and peaches.

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