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March set to be one of the driest on record

March 28, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Unless there is significant rainfall before the month comes to a close on Friday, March 2006 will go down as one of the driest in Washington County history.

As of Monday, only .35 of an inch of rain had fallen, according to i4weather.net, the Web site of local weather observer Greg Keefer. The driest March on record was in 1910, when .08 of an inch of rain was recorded.

So far, the dry conditions are having an effect on the number of outdoor burning permits being issued. But it still is too early for the impact to be felt in the agricultural arena.

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"It's not a problem yet," said Jeff Semler, extension educator with the Washington County Extension Service office on Sharpsburg Pike. "Cereal crops like rye, barley and wheat are just sitting in the ground waiting for the rain so they can start growing."

Other crops aren't in the ground this early, so the conditions aren't a factor for farmers yet, Semler said.

But if the lack of rain continues, there could be some repercussions.

"I was talking to a farmer Saturday, and he said we've got to get the seed out there - it won't grow in the bag," Semler said.

Historically, Semler said farmers feel as though they are in good shape if they can get their silage corn crops planted early in April.

"After May 10, we have more problems with the corn crops," he said.

As for fruit crops, Semler said the dry conditions aren't having any negative impact because fruit trees are deep-rooted.

"A month from now will be the critical time," he said.

The biggest worry for fruit crops is the effect of an early warming period that tends to accelerate the emergence of buds, Semler said. Once the buds of apple, and especially peach trees begin to soften, they are vulnerable to late spring cold spells that can devastate later fruit production.

A bigger problem in spring often is too much rain, which keeps farmers from being able to plant their regular crops in a timely fashion.

According to Keefer's Web site, more than 6 inches of rain fell in Washington County in March 1998 - just eight years ago.

Accuweather meteorologist John Feerick said only 1.1 inches of precipitation fell in February, less than half the normal amount of 2.35 inches. The average for March is 2.27 inches, he said.

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