Area endures September sog

So far, 5.41 inches of rain tallied this month, but drier days coming

September 06, 2006|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,sun reporter

Two months of exceptionally hot and dry summer weather have come splashing to an end in just five days. September has already dumped more rain on Baltimore than all of July and August combined.

More than 1.78 inches fell yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, gurgling down the hatch as a chaser to the 3.63 inches that fell during two days of rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto last week.

By Thursday, moderate drought conditions had developed in much of the state.

But then came Ernesto, which delivered more rain Friday and Saturday than the 3.31 inches recorded in all of July and August by the official instruments at BWI.

Yesterday's rain, courtesy of a low-pressure system that passed off the Delaware coast overnight, ran the September total, so far, to 5.41 inches.

The average rainfall for September in Baltimore is 3.98 inches.

Some minor traffic accidents and road closures were reported across the region yesterday because of the rains.

On the Eastern Shore, the day's showers had minimal effect, said Teresa Owens, Worcester County's emergency coordinator, who noted that rainfall ceased by noon.

"Maybe I should be, but I'm not worried this time," Owens said. "Over the weekend, we had up to 8,700 without power, but no significant flooding. We made out OK, and I think we will now."

But if anything, the rainy weather probably served as an annoyance for people returning to work after enjoying the long Labor Day holiday weekend - and for the political candidates out stumping, or sloshing, for votes.

Despite gray skies over City Dock in Annapolis, Democrat Douglas F. Gansler, a candidate for attorney general, held a small rally.

"The ducks braved the elements, and so should we," Gansler quipped. The drizzle, he said, "beats the oppressive heat for knocking on doors."

Jack and May Riordan of Front Royal, Va., stopping for lunch at the dock on their way to Ocean City with their children Rachel and Jack Jr., took the gloomy weather in stride.

"At least we'll be getting away," Jack Riordan said with a sigh.

Some of the latest rainfall was moisture swept up from the Pacific Ocean as part of Hurricane John, which raked the west coast of Mexico last week, said meteorologist Marisa Ferger of the Penn State Weather Communications Group at State College, Pa.

The flow of rainy weather into Maryland was coming from the Gulf of Mexico, she said. "But it is taking some moisture from southern Texas, and remnants of Hurricane John got melded into the system that was already in place."

The forecast, at least, looks drier. There's still a slight chance for more rain today, but by tomorrow the skies should be sunny, with highs in the low 80s. "Glorious," Ferger said.

For Queenstown farmers Laura and Tim Bishop, this summer has been a lesson in extremes - too much rain or too little.

"For so long, you couldn't get enough rain to grow anything, and now it's too wet to get a combine in the field," Laura Bishop said.

But for Roy Joines, a farmer in northern Harford County, the rain was welcome, boosting his harvest of green beans.

"Our bean crop looks wonderful," Joines said. "I planted it late and was worried, but the rain has helped it blossom."

Forecasters are paying close attention to another tropical disturbance, this one still far out in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm, named Florence, achieved tropical storm status yesterday, with top sustained winds of 40 mph. Florence was expected to become a hurricane by Friday.

Although the forecast track appeared to aim Florence at the East Coast, Ferger said, it's too far away to make a reliable prediction. At least one forecast computer model had it veering away from the U.S. mainland before any landfall.

"Florence - I'm calling her Flo - is something everybody on the East Coast is going to have to be aware of," she said. "Not to panic yet, but be aware."

Two of the nation's top hurricane forecasters, meanwhile, have scaled back - again - their predictions for this hurricane season.

With only six named tropical storms and one hurricane on the books so far, Phillip Klotzbach and William Gray at Colorado State University have trimmed their predicted tally for the 2006 season.

Instead of the 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five "intense" (Category 3 or worse) storms they predicted on May 31, the pair is now expecting 13 named storms and five hurricanes - only two of them intense.

The changes bring the anticipated season down to slightly below the long-term average for activity in the Atlantic Basin.

Klotzbach and Gray blame an "unexpected increase in tropical Atlantic midlevel dryness" as well as large amounts of dust blown from North African deserts into the atmosphere over hurricane-forming regions of the Atlantic.

Atmospheric dust has been shown to dampen the formation of tropical storms.

Also suppressing Atlantic hurricane activity, Klotzbach and Gray said, is a continuing trend toward El Nino conditions - abnormally warm sea-surface temperatures - in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

El Ninos in the Pacific set up weather patterns that increase wind shear in the Atlantic - high-level winds that cut the tops off growing storms, and prevent many of them from growing into hurricanes.

The pattern can cut back on hurricane formation, even during a multidecade period of high activity, like the current one that began in 1995.

An El Nino was credited for a very quiet storm season in 1997, which saw just seven named storms and three hurricanes.

Sun reporters Gina Davis, Justin Fenton, Mary Gail Hare, Chris Guy, Tyrone Richardson and Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

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