Slow, soaking rain `just what we need' in parched region

Low pressure brings all-day precipitation, first seen here in months

Water deficit far from erased

August 29, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Call it the Glendening effect.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced tough new water restrictions for drought-stricken Central and Eastern Maryland, a slow-moving low-pressure system yesterday delivered the first all-day rain that the region has seen in months.

More rain is expected today and tonight. The chances for still more rain in the form of showers and thunderstorms continue through Sunday

"Isn't it good? A nice, slow, drenching rain. Just what we need," said Doug LeComte, senior meteorologist and drought specialist at the National Center for Climate Prediction in Camp Springs.

As welcome as the rain is, LeComte and city water officials agreed that the lingering storm won't float the state out of the rainfall deficit that has deepened during the past year.

"No, no, no. We're in this [deficit] for the long haul, and I think that everybody realizes that. This is not something you get out of in one or two rainstorms," said Kurt L. Kocher, spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works.

Nearly an inch had fallen in Baltimore into the evening, and more than an inch in parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties. In Prince George's County, some areas received more than 1 1/2 inches of rain.

The five-day forecast called for a total of 3 to 6 inches of rain along much of the mid-Atlantic region. Some of the heaviest totals today and tonight were expected between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, including the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

The National Weather Service issued flood watches for yesterday through today, for all of Central and Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

The rain is part of the weather system that has delivered as much as 8 inches of rain to eastern North Carolina this week, causing flooding and at least one death.

The weather service said the rain resulted from tropical moisture streaming into the region from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

But Marylanders should not expect that this signals a change to a new, wetter weather pattern for the region, LeComte indicated.

"I'm leaning toward it being more of an interlude," he said.

"The Bermuda high that has given us such hot, dry weather has backed off and retreated to the east, and that's opened the gates and let in tropical moisture," he said. "This is something we haven't been seeing much since last September."

Long-term outlook: dry

Short-term forecasts say the rain and showers will linger through much of the Labor Day weekend. But the long-term outlook still calls for drier-than-normal weather through November for most of the Northeast.

High pressure is building up again across southeastern Canada, LeComte said, but that doesn't point to a rainy pattern for the mid-Atlantic.

While the rain caused minor fender benders and slowed traffic on the region's roads, it was a giant relief for area agriculturists and farmers.

"It's a million-dollar rain," said Steve Cissel, the owner of Tree Center Inc., of Lisbon, who was happy to see the rain steadily soak through the grass that is the mainstay of his business.

"It's good for the surface," said Donald I. Dell, a Carroll County commissioner and longtime dairy farmer. "But it could rain like this for 10 days and you still wouldn't see any effects on the wells until November or December. It's good to see, though."

Westminster buys time

In Westminster, city officials said yesterday that the all-day rain would buy them time in their quest to avoid trucking in water from an abandoned quarry.

The Westminster City Council voted Monday night to begin trucking in water if Raw Reservoir falls below 25 percent capacity, where it has hovered the past several days. The rain will probably keep the water level above that marker for the time being, said Council President Damian L. Halstad.

"We hope we can keep dodging the bullet," Halstad said. "The real key is still a reduction in usage."

The 1.8 million Marylanders who buy their water from the Baltimore water system appear to have taken the city's 19-day-old mandatory water restrictions to heart.

Data released yesterday by the city show that daily consumption has fallen sharply - from more than 280 million gallons a day to less than 250 million gallons - since last Friday. That was when the governor's office and Public Works Director George Winfield began talking about declaring a Level-Two drought emergency, tightening residential watering restrictions and requiring 10 percent reduction in commercial and industrial use.

In fact, Kocher said, since the city imposed mandatory restrictions Aug. 10, daily consumption has fallen consistently below volumes used on previous summer days when the daily high temperatures matched those recorded this month.

For example, on Tuesday, the high temperature downtown was 86 degrees, and the system delivered 246 million gallons to its customers.

That's 39 million gallons less than the average daily consumption on the 45 other summer days of the past four years with highs of 86 degrees - a savings of 13.7 percent.

It's not a perfect measure, Kocher conceded. "But I think there's an indication there that people have reacted," he said.

There is a lot of missing water to replace. During the past year, Central Maryland counties have experienced rainfall shortages ranging from 10 to 19 inches, according to the weather service.

It will take months of above-normal rainfall to begin to make up for the shortage. It might take even longer for rain and snow to seep down into the deep soils and bedrock and recharge the water tables that supply so many private and municipal wells. Many are at record, or near-record, lows.

For them, "we're talking many months to recover, a year, if not longer," Kocher said.

Sun staff writers Maria Blackburn, Johnathon E. Briggs, Jason Song and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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