Summer-style sizzle visits from Southwest

90 degrees is BWI record for date

cooler weather likely by weekend

Year's rainfall is still well below normal

April 17, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Temperatures shot into the upper 80s and even the low 90s across much of Maryland yesterday, injecting a bit of July into the mid-April calendar.

Those who could bared their winter pallor beneath spring sunshine that the National Weather Service warned was as strong as in August. Others cooled off by putting their boats in the water or indulging their ice cream habits.

Those chained to their jobs just daydreamed.

"I wish I were sailing," groused Bob Stoffel, a 54-year-old plumber who found himself working waist-deep in a hole in the sidewalk on Duke of Gloucester Street in Annapolis.

The high yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport was 90 degrees at 3:40 p.m., breaking the 88-degree record set for the date in 1976. It was 91 at the Inner Harbor.

It was the second day of 80-plus-degree weather this week. The mercury could reach 83 degrees today and 82 tomorrow, as warm air continues to flood the region from Mexico and the Southwest. The warm air is being funneled between a storm system over the Rocky Mountains and high pressure off the Carolina coast.

These summer-like temperatures come just 10 days after a stretch of 50-degree days in Baltimore.

"This is not atypical as we transition from winter to a summer pattern," said meteorologist Dave Reynolds of the federal Hydrometeorological Prediction Center in Camp Springs.

In fact, the seasonal seesaw between warm and cold air masses - and the dangerous spring storms they can provoke - were overdue.

Cold Canadian air was expected to bring snow this week to Denver and the Rocky Mountains. There's also a potential for severe storms over the upper Midwest, as the cold front pushes into the masses of warm air from Mexico that have been setting record highs this week from Nebraska to Newark, N.J.

Cooler temperatures, with highs near 70, should reach Maryland this weekend. By Monday, the cold front should bring rain and near-normal highs in the low to mid-60s, forecasters said.

All the more reason to enjoy the summer preview.

"My intent is to lie back and relax," announced freshman Kristin Jeung, 19, from Wisconsin, who started her sun worship at high noon yesterday on "the Beach" - a grassy expanse on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.

Hundreds of classmates decked out in shorts, sandals and bare skin joined her, equipped with sunblock and Frisbees.

"I anticipated this, so I studied for eight hours on Sunday," said Brian Frank, 20, a physics and math major from Columbia.

At City Dock in Annapolis, Doug Boughan, 45, of Westminster, and his 9-year-old daughter, Rachael, lapped at melting ice cream cones during a pause in a capital tour with their group from Mechanicsville Elementary School.

"The weather is getting crazier around here year after year," Doug Boughan said.

Nearby, Larry Richman, 65, a Baltimore veterinarian who lives in Annapolis' Eastport neighborhood, paddled his kayak into Ego Alley. Though Richman said he kayaked all winter long, this was the first time he got to come out in a tank top and shorts.

"It's always a good day to kayak," he said.

It wasn't such a good day for laying down 300-degree asphalt on Route 140 in Westminster.

"I was ready for temperatures in the 60s and 70s. I'm not ready for up to 90," said State Highway Administration inspector Eric Colledge.

Class attendance thinned out by afternoon at Towson University, where six undergraduate women gathered on the lawn in their bathing suits to soak up the sunshine and watch their male classmates playing Frisbee - "tanning and scanning," said Eliza Bass, a freshman business and marketing major.

Columbia resident Caro Platt knew it was hot when she and several other home-school families showed up at Ellicott City's Centennial Park for lunch and a game of T-ball. But she was astonished to hear just how hot.

"Oh, gosh," she exclaimed, "we're going to Florida [Friday] and it's cooler down there!"

Brief periods of 80-degree weather in April are not unusual in Baltimore. The airport recorded a high of 88 degrees April 23 last year. And record highs for this time of year are all in the high 80s or low 90s.

But these warm days underscore a long-term pattern of warm and very dry weather in the region since last summer.

The mild winter is being blamed for aiding infestations of winter grain mites and aphids that have damaged drought-stressed grain and grass crops in parts of Western Maryland and Pennsylvania this spring.

"It's a zoo," Don Schwartz, an extension agent in Washington County, said of the pests. "We have a farmer who's out of feed, waiting for the grass to grow; he checks his field and 30 percent of it is brown and dead."

The moisture shortfall for the past 12 months has reached nearly 15 inches in parts of Central Maryland.

Timely rains in recent weeks have kept hope alive for Maryland's farmers. Forecasters offer a chance of more rain beginning tonight and continuing through the weekend.

"With some luck and a few continued shots of rain, they will be able to keep things going," said Bryan Butler, of the Maryland State Extension Service in Carroll County.

But it will take abundant, extended rainfall to reach the deeper soils that crops will rely on for moisture during the usual summertime dry spells.

"There's nothing in the bank," said Schwartz, referring to the lack of moisture in the deep soil.

And it's getting harder to make deposits. Trees and plants are leafing out rapidly in the rising temperatures and pulling more moisture from the soil.

Evaporation rates are also climbing, requiring the equivalent of a quarter-inch of rain a day just to replace the moisture that's lost.

"Once we hit this time of year, an inch of rain doesn't go as far in replenishing the water table," said Reynolds.

Sun staff writers Jamie Stiehm, Amanda Crawford, Jennifer McMenamin, Sandy Alexander and Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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