Spring has bypassed Maryland once again

April 20, 2004|By Susan Reimer

IN MARYLAND, spring exits and summer arrives with the meteorological equivalent of a 9-year-old boy letting the screen door slam shut behind him.

Bang!

The cold, wind and rain depart, and suddenly it is 87 degrees.

If we actually had spring this year, it would have been Saturday, and it would have been the first in recent memory.

The weekend was bright and sunny and, though the temperatures were in the low 80s, the breeze still carried a hint of chilliness from brushing against the cold earth.

My daughter remarked that the whole world smelled like mulch. The hum of the first lawn mower made my stomach flip with delight.

Spring in Maryland more closely resembles the last gasp of winter, and you can lose heart that you will ever hear the sound of a mower again, or smell that musty, earthy smell again.

But by Sunday night, dinner in the kitchen was inexplicably sweaty, and we decided to leave the windows open when we went to bed.

During what passes for spring in Maryland, you can be confident that you will not wake up at 2 a.m. regretting that decision. Like the clocks we change, the season has reset itself to summer while you slept.

By yesterday morning, it was summer. Temperatures would reach almost 90 degrees before the day was over, and that is summer on anybody's calendar.

Like Rip Van Winkle, we awoke to a whole new season. If our pleasure has a certain hesitation to it, it is because we know each day from now on, the heat will defeat us a little more.

Young people invariably rush the season, but yesterday's school uniform of shorts and tank tops was not misguided.

Meanwhile, all the mothers of spring athletes wondered how their kids would do in the heat. Their bodies had had no chance to acclimate to running in 90 degrees. We worried that they had forgotten how to sweat and what being thirsty feels like.

Right now, however, there is a newness to the heat that is a relief and pure pleasure.

And pure mystery. Where does spring go, if it does not stop in Maryland?

"This has been pretty dramatic, but if you have lived in Maryland, D.C. or Virginia for any length of time, this is what you are used to," says Jim Travers, meteorologist for the Baltimore-Washington Forecast Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We go from winter, or a reasonable facsimile of winter, to summer in an instant. It isn't the kind of transition you would expect or that you might have grown up with in another part of the country," Travers says.

The reason? The Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Our watery neighbors are pretty chilly at this time of year - 50 degrees or less - and any wind that comes across those bodies of water on the way to Maryland will be loaded with cold moisture. That wind masks the moderating temperatures of spring and gives us weather that feels like, well, winter.

When the winds abate, summer reveals itself. But even that warmth can depart as quickly as it comes, Travers says.

"Even though temperatures aren't going to go back to what they were the end of last week, at some point in the weeks ahead it is going to feel like, `Where did summer go?' " he says.

"That's why Memorial Day can be glorious or absolutely horrible around here."

I laughed to myself on the way to work yesterday morning at neighbors who spent the weekend planting tender annuals.

They will learn a tough lesson sometime in the next couple of weeks. There is a reason why even Marylanders are advised to wait until Mother's Day to be so optimistic.

But if the bay and the Atlantic are traitorous friends in spring, they are steadfast in fall.

Travers explains that the water temperature peaks in September and takes many weeks to cool. During that time, any winds off the ocean or the bay will be warm.

It's the reason summer seems to last forever in Maryland.

And then, suddenly, it is winter again.

"As far as I am concerned," says Travers, "there are basically two seasons around here."

Each of those seasons provides blessed relief from the marathon season that precedes it. And even though I'd relish a real spring, I have to admit the sudden arrival of summer is always a welcome surprise.

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