Dry spell or drought?

Rainfall shortfall: Months of nice weather conceal threat of drought, prompting water use restrictions.

November 16, 2001

WILDFIRES and water restrictions are the sobering results of a serious autumn rainfall shortage that's been pleasantly camouflaged by sunny skies and mild temperatures.

Maryland banned open-air burning as scores of brush fires scorched woodlands throughout the state.

Westminster curtailed outdoor water use and reinforced indoor water conservation measures as its municipal reservoir dropped to a dangerous 30 percent level. Three other Carroll County towns also have water use restrictions.

Ten counties are on official state drought watch, urged to conserve dwindling water supplies.

That message of tighter water conservation should be heeded by everyone, especially because a fall drought is not as noticeable as one during summer or spring.

Soil conditions already indicate a mild drought, experts note, one that could worsen if significant winter storms don't make up for the persistent lack of precipitation.

Rainfall in the Baltimore-Washington area was 13 percent below normal over the past six months. At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, rainfall has been 2 inches below normal in each of the past two months.

As weeks of cloudless skies pass without the hint of a saving downpour, the entire East Coast is looking at the possibility of more restrictions on water use.

Weather experts are uncertain of the winter precipitation forecast, lacking the El NiM-qo or La NiM-qa currents in the Pacific Ocean this year as a prediction tool.

Customers of the Baltimore metro reservoir water system have not been affected by the drought watch. But they cannot be oblivious to the conditions that confront the Atlantic Coast. Water not wasted now will be a valuable savings for all in the months to come.

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