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Soaring temperatures worsen drought conditions

July 19, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The temperature in Hagerstown rose above the 90-degree mark for the fifth day in a row Monday as July's second heat wave blazed on.

The torrid temperatures worsened drought conditions for Washington County, where farmland is already parched beneath ground level.

"Crop conditions were poor and they are going south in a hurry," said Agricultural Extension Agent Don Schwartz. He estimated 80 percent of the county's crop land is under moderate to severe drought stress.

The county's water supply isn't scarce, but the dry days are taking a toll.

"Our systems are in good shape as far as storage," said Bill Dean, Washington County superintendent of water and waste water said.

"So far, we're holding our own. How long that remains is another story," he said.

Washington County and its municipalities have not set mandatory limits on water usage, but that may come in the near future, Dean said.

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The temperature in Hagerstown reached a high of 92 degrees Thursday, according to weather observer Greg Keefer. The high climbed to 98 Friday and remained at 99 over the weekend, Keefer's records show.

Monday's high was 97 degrees, according to the Maryland State Police.

The National Weather Service forecast for today calls for partly sunny with highs in the lower 90s. It will be partly cloudy tonight through Friday, according to the forecast. Highs will be in the lower to middle 90s for the rest of the week.

"We are in the drought and we are staying there for a while," said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va. "The best we can hope for is showers and thunderstorms, nothing that's going to quench our need," he said.

A weak cold front hovering over New England Monday was expected to go south and linger in the local region. It may bring moisture and lower the dew point, but Woodcock said there is a low chance of rain.

The Weather Channel was predicting isolated thunderstorms and showers each day through Saturday. Even the most optimistic forecast won't bring the water the land needs, but a drizzle will be welcome.

"If we catch an errant shower, we'll be grateful," said Schwartz. "There is nobody in the county that is not under drought stress unless they are watering like the devil."

Snowfall last winter did not add enough moisture to the subsoil, according to Schwartz. The dry summer makes it harder for plants such as the county's largest crop, corn, to grow. "We're going to be real, real short on our corn crop," Schwartz said.

For many farmers, the stunted growth will mean using corn for silage instead of grain. It also will mean cutting corn a month ahead of the normal time, usually the middle of August, to salvage what's left.

"We're going to see some emergency cutting any time," Schwartz said.

He said he is hoping for a downpour and an end to the drought. "One of these days, it will turn," he said.

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