May's showers and thunderstorms have given most drought-weary crops in Virginia and Maryland a new lease on life, but sustained rainfall will have to continue into the next two months to help the states' farmers.

"It was just what the doctor ordered," Fauquier County agricultural agent W.C. Brown said yesterday. "But we need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of rain a week to carry on."

After April's record dry spell in Maryland and Virginia, the May showers were welcome. More rain fell in the Washington area yesterday and totals for the area were above May averages, in contrast to the overall averages for Virginia and Maryland. The National Weather Service forecast sunny skies and temperatures in the low-to-mid-80s for the weekend.

National Weather Service forecaster Walter Green said the rainfall for May through Thursday at National Airport totaled 5.46 inches compared to a normal precipitation of 3.48 inches for the month.

Agriculture officials said the sporadic downpours during the past three weeks came too late to help the barley and some wheat crops but did wonders for hay and pasture lands. Corn and peanuts, already in the ground, can use the rain, officials said, and the soil is now loose enough for planting soy beans and tobacco.

Unless the rain continues to build up moisture in the ground, they warned that these crops, too, could be in trouble by August.

"Rain is like a bank account," said Tony Evans, coordinator of market news for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "You have to think about it as long-term deposits and steady, long-term withdrawals."

Officials said they are relieved that the rainfall has been relatively gentle on the sun-baked earth. A hard rainfall after a prolonged drought can cause serious runoff.

Homer Rowley of the Virginia Department of Agriculture said rainfall has been well below normal at most reporting stations in the state since August. As of last week at Dulles International Airport, he said, there had been only 2.14 inches of rain during May compared to a normal precipitation in May of 3.6 inches.

Maryland's Evans said that although May "has been good to us, technically, a large part of the state is in a drought situation."

The rain, he said, "couldn't have come at a better time, but we still don't have major reserves."

Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore are in particular distress following April, he said, a period in which the state received only six-tenths of an inch of rain during the whole month. From March through May 24, he said, rainfall has been 3 to 4 inches below normal at most reporting stations.