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Summer's coming, but rain isn't

June 19, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Summer officially starts Monday, and area farmers hope the new season brings with it some much-needed rain.

A dry spring ends on an extremely arid note: This May was the fifth-driest May on record in Hagerstown, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer.

Only 1.28 inches of rain fell during the month. The first part of June has not been much better.

"Obviously it's been dry. It has also been cooler than normal," said Jeff Semler, a Washington County agricultural extension agent.

Semler said the cool weather has mixed effects on farmers. It hurts crops like corn and soybeans but does not harm barley, rye and wheat, he said.

Water, though, is something no farmer can do without.

"We had a dry winter and a dry fall and a dry summer before that," he said. "It's a cumulative effect."

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Most of Maryland has been classified as a "severe drought" area, according to the National Weather Service.

"We thought we were going to get a lot more rain than we did from (Thursday). But it didn't work out that way," said meteorologist Phil Poole.

The forecast calls for a chance of showers on Monday. But there is nothing on the horizon that would reverse the long-term trend, Poole said.

"I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope," he said.

The problem for farmers is that the dry spring comes on after two fairly dry years, weather observers said.

After a wetter-than-normal first six months, the latter half of last year turned much drier than normal.

"Things reversed at the end of June and early July," said Kenneth Pickering, Maryland's acting climatologist. "It didn't have quite as much effect on agriculture."

Particularly troublesome, according to the weather service, is that the drought has arrived abnormally early in the growing season.

Pickering said things could still turn around.

"But that may be too late for some of these crops that have already been planted," he said.

Long-term forecasts call for near-normal summer precipitation levels, according to the weather service. But the long-term deficits will not be erased unless the region experiences a tropical storm or hurricane.

"Longer-term trends will be for getting less rainfall than average," Poole said.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecast a drier winter because of La Nia, a weather phenomenon that is the rough opposite of its cousin El Nio that caused warmer, wetter weather last year.

The National Weather Service said La Nia played a role in rainfall deficits in the mid-Atlantic region.

Not everyone is ready to blame La Nia, however.

"I don't think enough study has been done yet to draw that conclusion," Pickering said.

Pickering said local drought conditions are better explained by a ridge of high pressure that has dominated the region.

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