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Wet January eases Pa. drought

January 25, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Despite a six-month drought that had municipalities declaring water shortages in recent weeks, 1998 was above normal in precipitation and January has been very wet in Franklin County.

Precipitation differs from location to location, but weather observers in both Chambersburg and Shippensburg, Pa., said the weekend rain puts the county well above historical figures for the month.

Weather observer Jerry Ashway in Chambersburg said the 1.42 inches of rain over Saturday and Sunday put the month's total at about 4 1/2 inches. Dr. William Rense, a professor of geography at Shippensburg University, measured 5.91 inches, with 1.22 inches falling over the weekend.

Ashway said precipitation - rain, ice and snow - averages 2.9 inches in January as far back as his records go. Rense said his figures are more than two inches above normal.

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In 1998, both said, precipitation was well above normal during the first six months, followed by a very dry second half of the year. Rense said the Shippensburg area averages just under 40 inches of moisture a year and finished about 2 inches above that for 1998.

Ashway said the Chambersburg area finished 1998 about half an inch above normal at 40.4 inches.

Last year was one of extremes. Rense said February was the wettest on record. He and Ashway said November was the driest on record and December was even drier, though not a record.

Rense said 1998 temperatures were more than two degrees above the average mean at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. He called that "a huge disparity."

Ashway said 0.64 inches of precipitation fell in November and 0.54 in December. The driest was 1955, when total moisture was just 0.25 inches.

The record for January precipitation was 1978 with 7.34 inches, according to Ashway. Last January, he recorded 5.44 inches of moisture.

January's precipitation is good news for municipalities with reservoirs, but it could take longer to sink in for communities and property owners that rely on aquifers, springs and shallow wells.

Rense said three ice storms this month left the ground frozen, meaning it will take longer for those water sources to recoup.

More than 1.5 inches of rain fell at the Chambersburg water treatment plant near Fayetteville, Pa., over the weekend. An employee there said the reservoir was at about 80 percent of capacity earlier in the week.

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