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Rain eases drought fears

June 03, 1997

By DAVID DISHNEAU

Associated Press Writer

HAGERSTOWN - Weekend rains and wet forecasts are washing away drought fears among western Maryland farmers who worried through one of the driest springs in memory.

``What started to happen here yesterday has really been a Godsend as far as I'm concerned and I hope it goes on for a couple more days,'' Frederick County dairy farmer Franklin Gladhill said Monday.

Gladhill's corn, four inches tall at best, was the shortest he could recall for early June in more than 40 years of farming.

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``It should be almost knee-high by now,'' Gladhill said.

Monday's steady, soaking rain added to the precipitation that fell Sunday across Maryland in amounts ranging from .06 inch at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to .77 inch in Cumberland.

``As far as drought, that's over now,'' said John Newkirk, National Weather Service Program manager in Sterling, Va.

Meanwhile, the rain prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood watch for Garrett County in far western Maryland on Monday, but the sheriff's department reported no problems Monday afternoon.

Washington County Extension Agent Don Schwartz said the welcome rain came too late for farmers already finished with their first cutting of hay. The county's early alfalfa harvest was nearly 50 percent below normal, causing problems for growers who depend on that first cutting for more than half their annual crop, he said.

Schwartz said it was too soon to celebrate a change in the weather.

``It's a long time before we get up into September yet,'' he said. ``If we can get a couple of inches of rain and then get our average rainfall through the rest of the season, then those fears would be somewhat allayed.''

The Eastern Shore received abundant rain in late May, easing concerns of farmers there.

``We had five inches last week. It was getting dry before that,'' said David Clark, who grows corn and soybeans in Queen Anne's County.

The weekend precipitation helped bring the lake at Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont to near its normal 70-foot depth, according to park manager Cindy Eckert. The lake, which was drained in March for maintenance, was so low last week that its deepest swim area measured just 2 feet instead of 5 to 6 feet, prompting rangers to shave a dollar off the $3 entry fee.

``We're all really happy about the rain,'' Ms. Eckert said. ``We're down now anywhere from 6 inches to a foot, but by the time the rain stops and we finish getting runoff out of the creek, we should be at capacity.''

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