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  • Special Report: The Drought of '99

  •   Friday's Rain Too Little to Matter

    By Todd Shields
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, August 22, 1999; Page C1

    The brief showers that fell here last night were better than nothing at all, and the stronger thunderstorms that lumbered through the northern half of the region Friday night were fine, even if they did force the Baltimore Orioles into their first home rainout in more than two years.

    But don't take the past two nights' showers for a signal that the drought is ending.

    And don't--at least not yet--take any hope from the formation of two hurricanes named Bret and Cindy, one in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Atlantic Ocean. One may be headed toward Texas, not the Mall, and the other is too far away to foretell its path, meteorologists say.

    Still, some rain is better than no rain. Forecasters said last night's rain came from a small band of showers that formed between Dulles International Airport and upper Montgomery County, then moved toward the District, giving a swift soaking to the city and other places in its path, including parts of Charles County and eastern Fairfax.

    The rainfall totals were estimated between 0.1 and 0.2 inches.

    Certainly not a drought ender, but "every little bit helps," said National Weather Service meteorologist Michelle Margraf.

    And there was no reason not to savor the rain that fell late Friday, forcing the Orioles' first home rainout since June 2, 1997, and setting up yesterday's two games against Chicago's White Sox.

    Reagan National Airport got a scant 0.16 inches Friday night, but Baltimore-Washington International Airport 30 miles to the north received 0.96 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

    Many areas between the airports received a good drenching, among them Laytonsville, where puddles remained at Stadler Nursery yesterday afternoon.

    "That feels good. It's a rare sight," said Lisa Stadler, a manager at the nursery in northern Montgomery County.

    Friday's rain was the second to fall on the nursery in the past two weeks. Nice, but not enough, Stadler said. The rain may keep the plants alive, but "we need substantial rains for our plants to thrive," she said.

    The same kind of conditions that brought Friday's showers brought last night's lighter ones. But forecasters said there likely will be no more rain in the next couple of days.

    "That'll be it," said John Newkirk, program manager for the National Weather Service's office in Sterling.

    There also will be no immediate relief from water-use restrictions. On Aug. 4, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) banned lawn-watering, car-washing and other outdoor uses in a bid to conserve supplies that are dwindling after a year of below-average rainfall.

    "Even with the rain [Friday] night, we haven't seen anything that indicates a need for change," said Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill.

    All of which leaves area residents looking over the horizon for relief--way over the horizon, at warm tropical ocean water that spawns hurricanes this time of year.

    The hope is that a hurricane will stagger north, lose enough power so that it's not a destructive terror and dump a couple of inches of rain on the region.

    That remains just a hope, despite the advent of Hurricane Bret. Yesterday it was headed toward the Texas coast, with no chance of making a U-turn toward Washington, said Laura Hannon, a meteorologist with the private AccuWeather forecasting company.

    Out in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to Africa than to the United States, Hurricane Cindy was spinning near the Cape Verde Islands.

    "It's going to take Cindy several days to make it across the Atlantic Ocean," National Weather Service hurricane specialist Miles Lawrence said. "So we've got a long time before we can say anything intelligent about Cindy in relation to the United States."

    Hannon said most storms that form in Cindy's area never reach the United States. She placed little stock in predictions the current hurricane season will bring more storms than normal.

    "Every year there are predictions about how many storms will occur," Hannon said. "There are no predictions about how many storms will affect the U.S. We just don't know."

    But, she said, there are signs of weakness in the weather systems that prevent storms from the Midwest from reaching the East. Some places in Pennsylvania and New Jersey already have received as much rain as they get in a normal August, she said.

    "There's definitely some hope that there may be a change in the weather pattern, where instead of storms going up into eastern Canada or fizzling out, they'll actually bring some of that welcome rain," Hannon said.

    Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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