Coming Rain Showers Typify Unpredictable October Weather

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 4:15 PM

Skies dark with portent this afternoon held out hope that the long-parched region would finally see a little moisture. Unfortunately for area farmers and gardeners, that's what it likely will be -- a little moisture.

The National Weather Service is predicting that a front will stall over the Washington area for the next few days, but the resulting showers will only be intermittent. Look for cooler temperatures and occasional showers through Saturday morning, with a continued chance of rain into the afternoon. Sunday should be cool and dry.

Should be. October weather, often very pleasant, has defied prediction, as noted by The Washington Post over the years. On Oct. 5, 1891, The Post quoted the father of E. M. Chapin of 622 I St. NW, who had kept a weather record for decades. The elder Chapin noted that snow fell in the District on Oct. 4, 1836 -- "certainly in marked contrast with the present summer predictions," The Post reported.

In October 1880, too much rain was the problem, although "a cheerful sun and bracing October weather" dried up the mud -- at a time when mud was an important consideration for horses, buggies and pedestrians -- in time for the opening of the second annual national fair exhibition.

In October 1891, a spate of frosty October weather made the local food inspector's duties easier. He found the smallest amount since spring of spoiled beef, mutton, veal, pork, fish, pumpkins, corn, potatoes, turnips and tomatoes. He did find 500 clams and 600 crabs of "impure condition." They were sent down the river as garbage.

In 1895, daily meteorological observations taken at Brace's Drug Store in Georgetown found that the first ice of the season formed on Oct. 10 and that frost occurred on 11 days during the month.

And in 1901, October was so warm that many Washingtonians enjoyed the sun and surf at Atlantic City until November. C. N. Collins and T. V. Ketchum "selected delightful quarters at the Belmont for a portion of the season," while A. D. Wittington, among numerous other Washingtonians, enjoyed "the invigorating saline breezes at the Dennis."

Nearly four decades later, Whittington would have needed coat and gloves back home in Washington. On Oct. 19, 1940, snow and ice felled electric wires and disrupted traffic "as the coldest mid-October weather in 10 years gripped the Washington area." Planes at Washington Airport (now Reagan National Airport) were grounded as the first measurable snow since October 1925 began to fall.

Snow is not in the forecast this year.

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