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2003 among wettest years on the books

January 04, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

After about five years of drought, Mother Nature turned on the spigot in 2003.

Hagerstown had so much rain, that if 5-foot, 7-inch actor Tom Cruise were standing in Public Square and all the year's rain fell at once, only his forehead would be visible.

The rain total was 63.91 inches, according to weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site.

The normal yearly rainfall, by Keefer's calculations, should be about the height of Herve Villechaize, who played Tattoo on "Fantasy Island" - 38 inches.

Since 1898, the beginning of weather data in Hagerstown, the only year with more precipitation than 2003 was 1996, with 77 inches - about the height of basketball great Michael Jordan.

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Pat McCusker of Clear Spring, a weather observer for 34 years, said having so much rain - and snow - made keeping track of the weather interesting and fun.

May and September of 2003 each were the wettest on record in Hagerstown.

May had 8.21 inches of precipitation, breaking the record of 8.09 inches set in 1989.

September had 11.45 inches of rain, breaking the 1996 mark of 10.54 inches.

September is when Hurricane Isabel rocked the East Coast.

A tropical storm by the time it hit the Tri-State area Sept. 18 and 19, Isabel brought nearly 3 inches of rain and wind of more than 60 miles per hour. About 60,000 Allegheny Power customers lost electricity.

The amount of snow and ice that fell in 2003 in Hagerstown - 58.5 inches - was also roughly twice the annual average.

The big month was February, with a record 34.8 inches.

On Feb. 16, Hagerstown had 16.0 inches of snow, according to Keefer's Web site. From Feb. 15 to 18, a total of 24.6 inches of snow dropped.

McCusker said Clear Spring got about 40 inches of snow in February.

The deluge of snow and rain came after a string of drier than average months in 2001 and 2002.

In all of 2001, Hagerstown had 26.54 inches of precipitation.

February 2002, with .20 inches, was one of the driest months ever in Hagerstown.

Todd Toth, a science teacher who runs a weather lab at Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Senior High School, said conditions there were equally extreme in 2003.

He measured 65.3 inches of precipitation last year, compared with 40.9 inches in an average year.

Toth asked his students to investigate, but they ran into dead ends.

The heavy precipitation wasn't because of El Nio, a warming pattern, or La Nia, a cooling pattern, they found, and it wasn't because of sunspot activity.

None of those phenomena accurately can explain or predict the weather, McCusker said.

"It depends on your jetstreams ...," he said, referring to high altitude air flow. "Will it be northerly, southerly or split?"

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