Rain Likely to Dampen Area But Not Douse the Drought

(Bill O'leary - Twp)
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Washington region began getting yesterday what experts hope will be the first sustained rain in weeks, but it is unlikely to reverse the extensive impact of the five-month drought that has parched much of the Southeast.

Despite a late-night downpour in many areas, yesterday's rainfall was generally not a huge, dash-for-cover storm but the kind that pelted coats and umbrellas for extended periods. Even if the showers forecast over the next few days materialize, the region will still have a substantial deficit in annual rainfall.

"We need a couple of two- or three-day soakers to really put a dent in this," said Steven Koehn, director of the Maryland Forest Service. "It will probably take all winter to recover."

Late last night, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Lasorsa offered a similar assessment, even as a downpour affected visibility at local airports.

"It is more than a drop in the bucket," Lasorsa said. "It does help, but we didn't get in this drought overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight."

And it might not be until spring that the full extent of the drought's damage is clear, experts said. Up on ridge lines in Maryland, the drought has stressed trees in bone-dry soil, reducing their resistance to insects and disease.

In the livestock pastures of Virginia, it is replacing nutritious bluegrass, fescue and clover with scraggly wastes of broom sedge and wiregrass.

It has knocked down corn yields by 40 bushels an acre and peanut yields by more than half. Farmers in the region are wondering how well their cows will reproduce, observers said, and horsemen are worried about what foals will eat come spring.

The drought is even likely to thin tree rings, so that centuries from now, scientists should find evidence of the dry spell, a forestry expert said.

"I've been in this business 30 years," said Jim Riddell, assistant director of agricultural and natural resources at the Virginia Cooperative Extension. "We don't like to call it the worst, but it's one of the worst in a long time."

Light rain began falling yesterday morning, and it is expected to continue through Saturday. "We're probably going to see a fair amount over the next several days," said Christopher A. Strong, a meteorologist at the weather service office in Sterling.

"There's a pretty large storm that's going to be staging over the Mississippi River Valley, and that's going to bring a lot of humidity and showers," Strong said. "We're probably going to see as many as three inches of rain, and that will certainly help."

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