Area cries for rain

July 01, 1997


Staff Writer

Rainfall for the first six months of 1997 has been below normal.

  1997 Average 1996 January 2.21" 2.54" 7.71" February 1.67" 2.46" 1.85" March 5.68" 3.05" 4.44" April 1.48" 3.17" 3.33" May 1.80" 3.87" 7.83" June 2.08" 3.83" 10.83" Year to date 14.92" 18.92" 35.99"

Source: Hagaestown weather observer Greg Keefer

Crunchy-dry lawns emphasize just how little rain has fallen in Washington County this year.

"You can almost see the grass brown, and when the wind blows, the dust flies," said Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.

So far in 1997, Hagerstown has gotten less than half as much rain as it had by this time last year. By June 30 1996, the area was a little over 17 inches above average, with about 36 inches of precipitation, Keefer said.


With a total of just under 15 inches as of June 30, the city is 4 inches below average precipitation for the first six months of this year, he said.

That's a significant shortfall for a six-month period, said Keefer, who said brief, scattered thunderstorms haven't provided much relief to drought conditions.

"It may sound like a lot of rain, but 4 to 5 inches from one thunderstorm doesn't do much good," he said. "What we need is a big low-pressure system or some tropical hurricane-type rains to soak in."

Last June was five times wetter than this June, when only 2.08 inches of rain fell in Hagerstown, Keefer said.

Smithsburg has gotten nearly three times less precipitation this year than it had in the first six months of last year, said weather observer Jim Vaughn.

Last year, the town set a state record with 42.98 inches in the first six months, Vaughn said.

This year, it has had only 16.01 inches, he said.

Three months or longer of below-average precipitation constitutes a drought, Vaughn said.

Smithsburg has had below-average rainfall for five of the past six months, he said.

When grass goes into its dormant stage - "it just shuts down and turns brown" - that's a sure sign that not enough rain is falling to promote healthy plant growth, said Sandy Scott, a horticulture consultant with the Washington County Cooperative Extension Office.

"We're getting showers, but we're not getting the good deep soaking we need," Scott said.

Agriculture crops have been especially hard hit by the drought, which has been a "double-whammy" on top of a persistently cold spring, she said.

The drought has hurt a lot of trees in the county, Scott said.

Dogwood trees, which spread their fibrous roots in the top 8 inches of soil, have been especially hard hit by the dryness, she said.

And there has been a lot of dryness-related spider mite damage to evergreen trees, Scott said.

The National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., is calling for a chance of scattered moderate to heavy thunderstorms in the area today, Wednesday and Thursday, said forecaster Chris Strong.

Daytime temperatures will be in the 80s, dropping into the 60s at night, Strong said.

Overall, however, it looks like area residents can expect the summer to be hotter and drier than normal, Keefer said.

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