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So you think it's dry?

August 24, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

Patches of brown grass and low creek levels testify to the fact that no significant rain has fallen in Hagerstown in weeks.

Only the drought of 1930 was dryer in the Hub City, according to Hagerstown and state weather officials.

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The 1930 drought was "worse than the current situation and worse than any period during the 1960s," said Ken Pickering, the acting state climatologist for Maryland.

Rainfall was 16 to 17 inches below normal in 1930 compared to about 13 inches below normal now, said Pickering, who also is a research faculty member at the University of Maryland at College Park's Department of Meteorology.

While this drought, which began in July 1998, is intense, it is not the longest drought Hagerstown has experienced.

That distinction goes to an almost 11-year dry spell from 1959 to 1969 when rainfall was 6 inches to 11 inches below normal every year, except in 1967 when it was slightly above normal, said local weather observer Greg Keefer.

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Keefer has compiled a list of Hagerstown's historic droughts at his Web site at nfis.com/~i4storms/.

"I admit it is dry. It is bad, but it can always be worse," Keefer said.

John Herbst, 76, remembers when it was worse.

During the 1930s, the 10 acres his father farmed yielded fewer than 20 barrels of corn at a time when the norm was 60 to 75 barrels, Herbst said.

Herbst said the family's Misty Meadow Farm east of Ringgold has lost 30 percent to 40 percent of its corn crop in some areas this summer while other patches are fairly decent.

"It's spotty ... Our area is a little bit better off than some of the other areas not too far away," Herbst said.

"We'll survive, but we'll have to tighten up our belts a little bit," Herbst said.

It will be a long winter for farmers who have used the feed crops that normally would have lasted through the winter, he said.

Jim Harp isn't old enough to have experienced the 1930 drought, but the Paradise Church Road farmer knows this one is worse than the drought during the 1960s.

"We will not harvest one soybean," said Harp, 52.

While he had good barley and wheat crops this year, his corn crop is about 40 percent its normal size. Corn cannot pollinate when the temperature is over 95 degrees for a prolonged period, he said.

The temperature climbed to at least 90 degrees on 35 days this summer, and there were two four-day stretches in July when it topped 95 degrees, according to Keefer's Web site.

From July 1998 to July 1999, 32.66 inches of rain fell in Hagerstown compared with the normal rainfall of 41.29 inches, according to Keefer. So far this month, 1.6 inches of rain have fallen compared to the normal 3.32 inches.

The drought prompted Gov. Parris N. Glendening on Aug. 4 to become the first Maryland governor to issue statewide mandatory water restrictions.

Hagerstown City Councilman William M. Breichner, who used to head the water department, said he doesn't remember the city ever issuing mandatory water restrictions due to a drought.

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