Splendid spring tips Md. into drought

April showers fell short, leading to dry May, but some rain is on the way

May 16, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

This seemingly endless stretch of beautiful, cool, sunny days in Maryland has finally pushed much of the state into a drought.

"Don't say `beautiful' around farmers," said Fred Gadomski, a meteorologist with the Penn State Weather Communications Group.

This week's Drought Severity Index map, compiled by the federal Climate Prediction Center, shows that Maryland counties from Frederick to Cecil, and south to Washington and Baltimore, have slipped into a "moderate" drought.

Previously moderate drought conditions in Garrett County are now classed as "severe."

Only 0.01 inches of rain has fallen at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in the past 27 days. Since April 18, the only measurable rain at the airport was a brief shower on May 9, although scattered showers may have brought more to other parts of the state.

The driest May on record in Baltimore was in 1986, when just 0.37 inches fell.

To get things back to normal this month, Gadomski said, Central Maryland would need three to six inches of rain beyond the normal expectation of 3.72 inches for May.

"I would not call it a serious drought," Gadomski said. But "we are primed. ... We stand on the precipice of what could be a serious drought if weather patterns don't change soon."

The news isn't all bad. Doug Lecomte, senior meteorologist at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, said the forecast calls for an inch of rain in the region between now and Sunday morning. In fact, the latest six-to-10-day forecast promises at least normal amounts of rain.

The Drought Severity Index is based on the Long-Term Palmer Index, a calculation of local rainfall, soil types, seasonal evaporation and consumption rates by plants and trees.

The index is not a forecast of what's to come, Lecompte said. But "it is getting to the time of year when it starts to heat up, and it gets kind of difficult to offset the evaporation. So it [slipping into drought] is not a good sign."

On the other hand, he said, "there is a lot of randomness in summer weather. ... It can reverse very quickly."

This spring, drought conditions reflected on the Drought Severity Index maps have spread across much of the eastern third of the nation.

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