Month's Scant Rainfall Straining Waterways, Crops, Gardens
Saturday, August 26, 2006
A "moderate" drought has settled over the Washington region, according to weather experts, with crops starting to dry up, gardens struggling and rivers running well below normal after 15 days without rain.
Just 0.96 of an inch of rain has fallen at Reagan National Airport this month, with the most recent precipitation a 0.17-inch mini-shower Aug. 10, according to the National Weather Service. That's well below normal -- which is 3.44 inches for the entire month -- and it continues a pattern of dry weather that followed heavy rainfall in early July.
"Here we were a couple of months ago talking about floods," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb. "It's actually dried out pretty significantly since then."
But not significantly enough to set a record: Even if not another drop of rain fell this month, the Weather Service said it would still be just the eighth-driest on record. But it has been unusual, even considering that the lull between summer thunderheads and fall rains is usually the most moisture-deprived stretch of the year.
"It's kind of that middle ground, after the thunderstorms and before the winter storms," said Chris Strong, a Weather Service meteorologist. In other years, tropical storms and has-been hurricanes have provided some relief from the dry weather, but they've been missing.
The difference can be seen in the Potomac River, which is flowing at just about 62 percent of its usual volume at Point of Rocks, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Around the area, gauges show that many streams are below levels.
And it can be seen in Maryland's agricultural crops, with officials worrying that soybeans will dry out during a crucial stage in their development.
"It's getting to be very serious," said Lewis R. Riley, Maryland's secretary of agriculture and a farmer on the lower Eastern Shore.
"A rain will still save them," Riley said of the soybean crop. "But each day that we go on with this, it's going to cut back on our yields."
In Virginia, agricultural extension agents are worrying about the loss of grass for livestock to graze on. In Clarke County, west of Loudoun County, extension agent Jacob Stegner said some farmers with barren pastures are already bringing in hay for their cows. That usually doesn't happen until November or December, he said.
"The pastures are burning up," he said.
The dry weather has also caused problems in the District, where city officials have asked residents to water any city-planted trees around sidewalks near their homes. Ten gallons a week is enough to get the trees through dry times, the city says.
Relief appears to be coming, however: There is a chance of thunderstorms or showers today, tomorrow and into next week.