A Few Drops vs. an Entrenched Drought

At Rocky Gorge Reservoir, near Burtonsville, Md., stumps that would normally be submerged are high and dry in a photo taken last week.
At Rocky Gorge Reservoir, near Burtonsville, Md., stumps that would normally be submerged are high and dry in a photo taken last week. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Fredrick Kunkle and Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 19, 2007

The parched Earth may get a sip of relief today, but not enough to lift the region's drought.

As Washington tied a 12-year-old record for consecutive days without rain and federal officials designated almost all of Virginia a disaster area, forecasters said yesterday that cloudy skies offered better than even odds that showers would alleviate the dry spell.

But forecasters said the expected amount of rain -- perhaps a quarter- to a half-inch -- would be enough only enough to reduce the yellow pallor from people's yards and raise the level of beleaguered streams.

"Most areas will see some rain. It won't be enough to break the drought or anything, though," said Brian LaSorsa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. He said more rain is expected early next week, but the region will need that and more to make up for the dearth of precipitation over the past 10 months.

The National Weather Service forecast a 60 percent chance of rain late this afternoon and into the evening. There is a 30 percent chance of more rain tomorrow morning.

But the region has been thirsty all year, having received 10.23 inches less of rain than normal since Jan. 1, according to measurements taken at Reagan National Airport. Yesterday was the 33rd consecutive day without measurable precipitation, tying a record set in 1995, LaSorsa said.

With a high-pressure system anchored in the Southeastern United States, most of the moisture the region would normally receive has been shunted north to New York, LaSorsa said. New York also is dry but is closer to normal precipitation levels than Washington is, he said.

Drought also has hit other parts of the country.

Much of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic are dry, and parts of the West have had extreme drought, with some areas locked into a dry pattern for about two years, said Alex Sosnowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather in State College, Pa. On the other hand, heavier-than-usual rain has swamped the Plains between Texas and Minnesota, Sosnowski said.

In the Washington region, the drought has been blamed for killing 60 percent of some crops in Virginia and Maryland, driving down harvests of Chesapeake Bay crabs and disrupting their normal patterns, and depressing sales of plants and shrubs at garden stores.

Several local jurisdictions have taken action to reduce water demand. Loudoun County has issued mandatory restrictions, and other localities have declared drought watches and asked for voluntary conservation measures. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) announced yesterday that the federal government designated 78 additional Virginia counties and 34 cities as disaster areas, adding to 15 counties listed previously. Kaine also imposed a statewide ban on open fires.

The disaster designations allow eligible farmers to apply for loans and other federal relief. All of Maryland was declared a drought disaster area in August.

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