'Abnormally dry' July affecting some farmers more than others

July 30, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • Nicole Houser sorts tomatoes Friday at Houser's Produce Farm Inc. on Shaffer Road near Sharpsburg. The farm has not been affected by the lack of rain in the area, according to owner Page Houser.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Washington County is in the midst of an abnormally dry period, even though it has had more rainy days during July than average, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Carrie Suffern.

“Abnormally dry means drier than normal, and a drought means a lot drier than normal,” Suffern said. “A bunch of different things go into the classification of a drought, including precipitation and stream flow. Washington County is not in a drought, and water levels are pretty close to normal.”

As of July 27, Suffern said, 2.14 inches of rain had fallen in the area during the month. That is 1.37 inches below the average for that month, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer’s website at

In 2011, 3.68 inches of rain fell during July, while in 2010, 1.53 inches of rain fell, according to Keefer’s weather station.

Despite the lower rainfall total, there were 15 days with 0.1 inch or more of precipitation in the month, three more days than the average of nine for July, according to Keefer’s site.

“A lot of the precipitation is brief, fast-moving showers and thunderstorms,” Suffern said. “Most rainfall totals are below one-tenth of an inch. That’s not going to do much for the total amount over a month.”

Suffern said the showers and thunderstorms are a result of the excessive heat throughout the month of July and the fronts that have come through the area.

The average temperature for the month of July has been 75.3 degrees, and the hottest average on record for the month is 80 degrees in 2010 and 1999, according to Keefer’s website.

July’s weather has treated farmers differently, depending on where their farms are in the county.

Page Houser, president of Houser’s Produce Farm Inc. on Shaffer Road near Sharpsburg, said his area has not experienced dry weather.

“This year, the thunder showers have been coming over this immediate area,” he said. “Our farm is actually wet.”

Houser said he has had to water his crops very little this year, and that it is not too wet or too dry where he is.

“We’re getting adequate moisture without being flooded out,” he said. “It’s a great thing to have, but it does create difficult conditions in and of itself to harvest a vegetable.”

The weather was a different story at Allenberg Orchards on Barth Spring Lane near Smithsburg.

Henry Allenberg, owner of Allenberg Orchards, said he had not had a lot of rain, but said the scarcity of precipitation was not too severe.

“We’ve got nice-sized fruit,” he said. “Unless it’s really dry, the heat is good. I’ve been through a lot worse.”

Allenberg said his farm was more affected by the warm weather in early March, resulting in some damage from “spring freezes.” He called the current weather a “mixed blessing.”

“The hot weather makes the fruit taste better and increases sugar,” he said. “But if it gets too dry, it makes the fruit smaller.”

Recent hot weather didn’t stop some from shopping at the markets.

Myersville, Md., resident Kay Kim was shopping at Allenberg Orchards Friday. She said the heat could be a reason for her to go out and shop at farmers markets.

“I figured it’s hot, so the fruit will be sweeter,” she said. “This is my third time coming in July.”

Theresa Berry of Hagerstown also was shopping at Allenberg Orchards Friday. She said she goes to farmers markets every summer.

“The weather hasn’t affected me, and the food has been really good,” she said. “The price is better than the store.”

Spencer Kesecker, 62, of Falling Waters, W.Va., said while shopping at Houser’s Produce on Friday that even though the weather has been hotter than usual, it has not stopped him from shopping at farmers markets in the area.

“I think the quality of fruits and vegetables have been pretty good this year,” he said. “The weather has been much warmer this year, but it hasn’t affected my shopping patterns.”

The total amount of precipitation for 2012 so far is approximately 18.83 inches, according to Suffern’s numbers. That is 5.83 inches below the average amount by the end of July around Hagerstown, according to Keefer’s website.

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