Typical fall, mild and dry winter in forecast

September 22, 2007|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,SUN REPORTER

With today's forecast calling for another sunny day to wrap up a remarkably dry summer, weather gurus are predicting typical fall weather but a mild winter that offers little respite from drought.

Scientists at the National Weather Service are calling for average rainfall and temperatures for Maryland over the next three months, but their models suggest that from January on winter will be mild, with little snow.

"It's late in the winter that we're forecasting above-normal temperatures and less precipitation," said Rick Winther, a spokesman for the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

Those prognostications were echoed by the Old Farmer's Almanac, that consistently published and sometimes accurate weather source, which predicted a "mild and dry" winter for the Mid-Atlantic region.

The winter conditions are expected to be driven in part by La Nina, a climate cycle defined by lower-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in parts of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Nina occurs about every three or four years and typically means mild, dry winters for Maryland.

Unless the fall hurricane season brings a deluge or two, a dry winter would probably mean parts of Maryland will enter next summer already in a drought.

BWI Marshall Airport has recorded 5.51 inches of precipitation this summer, about half the normal rainfall of 11.02 inches. This month so far has seen 0.35 of an inch of precipitation, more than 2 inches below normal for September. The National Drought Mitigation Center last week declared most Maryland counties as "abnormally dry" or in "moderate drought."

The summer's dry conditions have left large swaths of the United States wanting for water, particularly southeast and western states, some of which are experiencing extreme drought.

While today is the autumnal equinox, meaning day and night are roughly equal and that fall doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, dry conditions have reportedly caused some trees in Western Maryland to begin dropping their leaves early.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works, said Baltimore's water supplies are lower than normal but not critically so. "We started off the year in fairly good shape, and we're still not too far off of normal," he said.

He said water levels in Loch Raven and Prettyboy reservoirs were several feet below average, but less depleted than other areas because they are fed by watersheds that receive more rain.

"There have been periodic rains," he said. "A lot of the rain has been to the north of us and fed into the streams that go into our reservoirs."

In areas of Harford County, officials are urging residents to conserve where possible. "The county is asking that people be conscientious of their water supply, so that their neighbors won't have to go without," said Jackie Ludwig, the county's chief of water and sewer.

Two Harford creeks, Winters Run and Deer Creek, are so low that private water companies that usually draw from them have resorted to using water from the county's public reservoirs, Ludwig said.

She added that the drought has left groundwater supplies unreplenished, causing the water table to drop. She advised families with private wells to conserve water to prevent them from going dry.

She was disappointed by the predictions of a dry winter. "It's too bad," she said. "We're going to need a snowy winter to come out of this."

chris.emery@baltsun.com

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