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We've seen fire, now how about some rain?

December 04, 1998

Low waterBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

If you think the past two months have been the driest Washington County has seen in years, you're right.

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Less rain fell during October and November of this year than has fallen in those two months in at least 10 years, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.

Only 1.71 inches of rain fell in October, while .62 inches fell in November, Keefer said.

So far this year, however, 41.78 inches of precipitation has fallen in Washington County in 1998. Last year the area was even drier, with 40.03 inches of rainfall, as recorded on Keefer's Web site.


The scarcity of rain has resulted in a drop in the water level of the Potomac River, led to a burning ban across the state, and stunted fall crops.

The water level of the Potomac River at Williamsport was at 1.04 feet Thursday, low enough that a V-shaped rock formation was visible from the I-81 bridge.

Personnel at the R. Paul Willson Water Treatment Plant at Williamsport said the water level is causing no problems there and is not affecting the water supply.

The dry weather has had the Department of Natural Resources and area firefighters scrambling to put out more than 200 brush fires in recent months.

Area farmers are seeing the effects of the dry fall in their fields, where crops are smaller than usual.

A statewide burning ban instituted on Nov. 26 remains in effect. It prohibits open burning in state parks and other public woodlands. Burning also is banned within 200 feet of woodlands.

The ban is expected to remain in effect until the area receives at least an inch of rain, Rick Lillard, DNR regional fire manager, said previously.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service say they have no idea when that inch of rain might fall.

"The dry, warm weather is being caused by high pressure systems in our area," said weather service meteorologist John Newkirk.

He said a low pressure system would have to move into the area before we could expect precipitation.

Newkirk said low pressure systems that normally hover over Maryland at this time of year have drifted to the northeast.

Warm weather will continue through the weekend and skies will be partly sunny, forecasters said. Highs are expected to be in the 60s to 70s and lows in the 40s to upper 50s.

The lack of moisture is hurting small grain crops such as wheat, barley and rye, which were planted in the fall, said Jeff Semler, extension agent for agriculture and 4-H for the Washington County Cooperative Extension.

"The stalks are not quite what they should be for this time of year," he said.

Wheat and barley are 2 to 3 inches tall this year, while in a year with normal rainfall, they would be double that size, he said.

"The drought has been going on a long time. It certainly has had a negative effect on pasture regeneration," said Semler.

Lack of precipitation and unusual 70-degree temperatures have helped dry the soil and confuse plants, said Semler.

"The buds on some trees are swollen, and I've had reports of things green at this time of year that wouldn't normally be," he said.

"It's never too early or late to have rain. Any kind of moisture put in the ground would be helpful. Sooner or later it's going to get colder," he said.

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