Summertime, and the living was cool and rainy

90-degree days were few, precipitation plentiful

September 02, 2004|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Hot weather and scarce rain over the past two weeks might convince newcomers that we've had a hot, dry summer in Baltimore.

But they'd be wrong.

The summer of 2004, which began for meteorologists June 1 and ended at midnight Tuesday, was a bit cooler than average. Only a handful of days reached the 90s, and there were plenty of blanket-weather nights for sleeping.

There was also a surfeit of rain. Thunderstorms repeatedly filled streams, flooded low-lying streets and soaked basements. The rainfall surplus at Baltimore-Washington International Airport was 4.7 inches.

The result was a bad summer for golfers and air conditioner repairmen, but a perfect summer for grass and people who make their living cutting it.

"It's just been steady. You didn't have the break you usually do in July," said Matthew Fox, owner of Fox Lawn Service in Phoenix.

Most customers, he said, "are scheduled for every week unless there's a drought, then we slack off. That was the case two years ago."

But this summer, "sometimes we're cutting every five days instead of every seven," he said. "The cool nights have been helping, too."

Although the calendar's version of autumn doesn't begin until Sept. 21, it started yesterday for the nation's weather forecasters, who round their seasons to the month. They say fall will start beautifully, with sunny skies and highs in the low 80s through Saturday.

Beyond that, the crystal ball grows cloudy -- and not just because of Hurricane Frances, which is heading toward the U.S. southeast coast. The three-month outlook from the Climate Prediction Center is for equal chances for above- or below-normal temperature and precipitation for all of the East outside of Florida.

For a while, it appeared that this summer might be a scorcher. May averaged almost 7 degrees above average, the fourth-hottest on record for Baltimore. But that didn't count officially as summer, and the heater switched off in late May.

June, July and August each averaged a fraction of a degree cooler than average at BWI, the station of record for the region.

Thermometers reached the 90s on eight days this summer. The hottest day was July 5, which reached 92. In the previous three summers, the average was 26 days in the 90s. In 2002, there were 44 such scorchers.

Cool Canadian air pushed as far south as Maryland several times, bringing clear blue skies, low humidity, fresh breezes and 21 daytime highs in the 60s and 70s. There were also 21 cool nights for sleeping with the windows open, with lows below 60. That's twice the norm.

The weather let many families to ignore faltering air conditioners and put off repairs or replacement, said Ray Chaney, owner of Ray F. Chaney Heating and Air Conditioning in Rosedale.

"They're holding back because the weather has not been hot enough to force them to do something," he said. Commercial customers haven't hesitated, but homeowners are "very cautious about spending money. I would say we're off probably about 10 to 12 percent. ... Even service is off."

It's a far cry from the heat waves of 2002. "We were running night and day, then," Chaney said. "We'd rather be busy, believe me."

The mild weather saved Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s residential customers 200 million megawatt hours of electricity compared with their average usage over the past 30 years. But they still consumed more power than they did last year, boosting their average summertime bills by $37, said company spokeswoman Linda Foy.

Summer storms did take a heavy toll on the utility. Weather-related damage to lines and equipment cost BGE $8.3 million from May through last month, compared with an average of $4.3 million for the same period over the past four years.

Except for the last two weeks of August, precipitation was above normal, continuing a rainy pattern of nearly two years. The biggest event was a July 27 storm that dropped nearly 4 1/2 inches of rain at BWI, exceeding the normal rainfall for the entire month. It was the second-wettest July day on record for Baltimore.

The July 27 deluge fell near the end of seven straight days of measurable rain at BWI, pushing the month's total to 8.69 inches, the fifth-wettest July on record and the wettest since 1945.

Overall, the weather service rated 13 summer days as clear, and one out of three days was rainy, to the dismay of golfers.

In baseball, "if there's a rainout you can have a double-header the next day; the golf industry doesn't work that way," said Lynnie Cook, executive director of Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., the nonprofit company that operates the city's public courses.

In soggy July, golfers played 1,600 fewer rounds on city links than they did last year. This summer overall was an improvement over a very rainy 2003, but "that's not saying very much," Cook said.

The summer showers and thunderstorms often lined up like boxcars, rolling in one after the other along stalled frontal boundaries. Motorists often had to be rescued from deep water.

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