July is the wettest in at least 59 years

Nearly 9 inches of rain, with more possible, makes it fifth-soggiest on record

July 29, 2004|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

You can put a notch in your sump pump, Baltimore. The wettest July in 59 years is now gurgling down the drain.

Tuesday's 4.45-inch deluge pushed the month's total to nearly 9 inches of rain at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. That makes it the soggiest July here since 1945, and the fifth-wettest on record.

If another inch or so tumbles from the clouds before midnight Saturday, this July will be the wettest in 99 years. Only 1905, when 10.65 inches fell, and 1889 (11.03 inches) will have been wetter.

It could happen. The forecast calls for a break in the precipitation today. But forecasters said there's a chance of more showers or thunderstorms tomorrow and Saturday.

The National Weather Service posted early flood watches again yesterday in areas around the bay. But rains were scant west of the Chesapeake, and the watches were lifted later in the afternoon.

`Unusual pattern'

"We're seeing a very unusual pattern for July," said Roger Smith, a weather service meteorologist in Sterling, Va. Cool Canadian air that normally stays north of the border has slipped south to the Mid-Atlantic and stalled here, forming a boundary where showers and thunderstorms can form.

A light flow of air from the southwest, combined with extremely moist, subtropical air just south of that front, has fed into the storms. On Tuesday, Smith said, "when storms formed, they just lined up in the southwest flow, and one storm after another was passing over the same area" like box cars. Forecasters call it "training."

In College Park, the storm parade dropped 2 inches of rain an hour for nearly two hours. In the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. yesterday, Silver Spring, too, got more than 4 inches, while Fallston got more than 3.

Tuesday's 4.45-inch deluge at BWI made it the wettest July 27 on record for Baltimore and the second-wettest July day in 133 years of record-keeping here. (The wettest: July 8, 1952, when 5.85 inches fell.)

It's rained each of the past seven days at BWI, and on 13 days this month. Although rainfall has varied widely across the state, Baltimore hasn't gone more than two days without it since July 3.

Since April, the airport has recorded nearly 9 inches of surplus rainfall. Reservoirs are brimming. Rivers and streams were flowing well above normal ranges across Central Maryland yesterday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Records for the date were set on the Little Patuxent River near Guilford and the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River at Riverdale.

Flooding

Tuesday's storms flooded low-lying streets and roads across the region, toppled trees and triggered a flurry of traffic accidents. Painters' scaffolding collapsed onto the Key Bridge.

Howard County police said they assisted three stranded motorists and responded to nine car accidents, though none involved serious injuries.

Flooding Tuesday forced the closure of Furnace Avenue in Elkridge until yesterday morning. Up to 6 inches of water covered several other Elkridge roads, police said, but none had to be closed.

"I think we were lucky compared to some of the other places," said Pfc. David Proulx, a Howard police spokesman.

Unlike last year, when heavy rains early in the season made many fields too wet for planting, this year's rainfall hasn't posed problems for farmers so far, said Norman W. Bennett, director of agriculture statistics at the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "Although we've had a lot of rain, it's still been sort of spotty; only certain areas had heavy amounts," he said.

In fact, after a stretch of dry weather on the Eastern Shore in late June and early July, he said, "people were sort of relieved that we started to get rain again."

The frequent rains have at least helped keep things cool and clean for Marylanders. Airport highs were in the 70s three times in the past week. The airport has seen four days in the 90s this month and one since July 7.

Maryland has recorded three days with unhealthy "code red" air pollution this summer, compared with 10 normally, according to the state Department of the Environment.

Sun staff writers Joe Nawrozki and Gus Sentementes, and editorial assistant Ellie Baublitz contributed to this article.

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