Baby, the rain record must fall

It did, and we had both pain and gain

December 31, 2003|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

2003 wasn't a total washout.

Sure, it was the wettest year in Baltimore's history, or at least that 114-year chunk of it in which man has gone to the trouble of measuring precipitation.

And, sure, 63 inches of it can - and did - put a damper on everything from attitudes to bottom lines, from tourism to the family picnic.

But, there were bright spots.

Your basement may have reeked of mildew, but somewhere else a flower bloomed a little more brilliantly.

Well, maybe not. But you get the idea - while some people and pursuits were inconvenienced, harmed even, by the heavy rains, others thrived.

It's all part of the cycle. In 2002, we complained of drought; in 2003, we pumped our basements. There are periods of feast and famine, drought and flood, winning and losing. You never know. That's the way life is. It's a lot like ...

Horse racing

Unless you were a mudder - or owned, rode or bet on one - 2003 was not a good year at the track.

"There's no question - this year had a serious impact on us," said Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club.

Eleven racing days were canceled due to rain, and two more were shortened due to high winds. That 6 percent cutback in operating days was just part of the picture. Rainy weather also led to small crowds, scratched horses and less betting, all bad news for the tracks.

Preakness Day was the coldest on record, Capps said, with heavy rains the day before and showers in the morning. On Preakness weekend, 76 horses scratched over a two-day period.

While the big race was still a success - the second-best Preakness ever, in terms of amount wagered - Capps says it would have been a record-breaker had skies been sunny.

As for mudders, Capps said, they don't necessarily enjoy running in the mud. More likely, they hate it and want to be in front of the pack to avoid getting covered in wet dirt. In this way, they are unlike ...

Worms and slugs

It was a good year for squirmy and boneless things that thrive under moist conditions. Slugs - when the wet winter subsided - left their slimy paths on many a patio as they headed for vegetable gardens. Worms were abundant and easily unearthed by those who wanted them to ...

Go fishing

The same conditions that made it a good year for bait made it a lousy one for fishing, whether you did it for a living or just for fun.

The crab harvest from the Chesapeake Bay's Maryland waters is expected to be the lowest since 1978, primarily because so few watermen were trying to catch crabs amid the record rains. Runoff from the rains washed pollutants into the bay and triggered large, oxygen-consuming algae blooms, making crabs less likely to be around.

The oyster harvest is expected to be just as bleak. The state gave full-time crabbers two unprecedented emergency payments of $500 each to help them meet their bills.

The rains increased the amount of water from the Susquehanna River flowing into the bay, pushing the salt line closer to the bay's mouth. As a result, saltwater species that normally make their way to the top of the bay never arrived, disappointing local fishermen. On the other hand, the raging rivers were good for ...

Whitewater rafting

Lee Baihly, owner and founder of River & Trail Outfitters near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said the company had its best year ever, thanks in part to rains that made rapids a little more rapid. While canoeing and tubing slowed down because of the high water, whitewater rafting did well.

"There were so many weekends in May and June that were ... just overcast, or with driving rain," he said. "That was kind of discouraging to people, so once the sun began to shine consistently in July and August, people came out in droves."

Baihly, who started the company 32 years ago, said it was a distinct contrast to 2002. "We had a drought - and you guys [the news media] were letting everybody know about it. This year, with all the rain, it was completely different," he said.

So a bad year was followed by a good year, as is often the case with ...

The wine business

For winemakers in the Mid-Atlantic states, 2003 is not expected to be a banner year.

"It certainly made things more challenging," Bert Basignani, owner of Basignani Winery, said of the rains of 2003. "Generally grapes like it drier than it has been, but with intensive care we were able to get the crops and will probably have a decent year."

While some varieties did not produce up to standard - because of rains, the cold winter and damage from Tropical Storm Isabel - tougher-skinned grapes, like those that end up in cabernet, fared well at the Basignanis' vineyard north of Butler.

"With that kind of wetness, there is more pressure from disease," Basignani said. "You have to keep the crop a little lighter, use good cultivation and weed control ...

"There are things you can do," he added, but controlling the weather is not one of them. It's one of those unavoidables, like taxes and ...

Death and burial

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