Before the weekend's rainfall, the weather had been dry for the first 13 days of June.
But even after the skies opened--bringing more than two inches of rain in eight days--the reality was the same. Drought. A chronic water shortage.
"It's dry," said Peter Holden, district liaison at the Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation Service. "Real dry. We've only had half an inch of rain in the last week. We need a lot more than that. We need about an inch a week, and we're not getting it. And it doesn't look like we're going to get it."
There was no precipitation in June until the recent rains, which brought 2.3 inches to the monitoring station at Dulles International Airport between June 13 and June 21. The normal rainfall in the first 21 days of June is 3.92 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Sterling.
Andy Woodcock, a weather service forecaster, said the rain hardly made a dent in ground that has been parched for most of the last year. "We had a wicked drought last summer, and we're still making up for that," Woodcock said.
No precipitation is expected until the weekend, when thunderstorms are in the forecast, he said.
So for the farmers, the wildlife and the people of the region, things will stay pretty much the same: Field crops look pathetic, and the hay harvest is expected to be half of that produced in a normal year. Holden says he gets a lot of calls from newcomers who expect to feed their horses on pasture and aren't sure what to do when the grass gets puny.
"We're working more with people who are typically two-income [couples who go to work] off the farm and they need help; they don't know what to do," Holden said. "They didn't grow up on a farm, or they've been away a long time and they have some childhood memories of growing up on a farm."
With hay in scarcer supply as a substitute for grass, horse owners may have to look to more distant suppliers.
Deer and other wildlife will forage over a wider than usual area because their usual sources won't be in such plentiful supply, said Joe Coleman, of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.
In the western Loudoun town of Round Hill, 550 water customers are still under mandatory water conservation rules, with violators facing fines of $500.
The Loudoun County Sanitation Authority's 30,000 customers are still being asked to observe voluntary water conservation measures--especially for outdoor uses, such as lawn and garden watering.
Water users in eastern Loudoun have not been asked to restrict their consumption.
Most water customers in eastern Loudoun are served by the Fairfax County Water Authority, which uses a mix of water from the Potomac River and the Occoquan Reservoir to supply water to about 1.2 million customers in three counties and Alexandria.
Because of that system's capacity to store large amounts of water, the authority expects to be able to offer water to customers during the drought without asking people to conserve.
"Even if it stays dry all summer, we don't foresee any water use restrictions . . . and that's because the reservoirs we have in the metro area are either full or near topped up," said James Warfield, the authority's executive officer. "We had those rains back in January that recharged the upstream reservoirs and those in the metro area."
The Virginia Department of Health, which monitors water quality and can request special testing of water that isn't up to standard, also keeps track of area water supplies and helps coordinate solutions when supplies fall short.
Hugh Eggborn, of the department's Office of Water Programs in Culpeper, said that the recent rains failed to replenish the ground water supply from which wells draw water. "I would doubt that it made much of an impact because it just wasn't very much rain," Eggborn said.
Nonetheless, Eggborn said, residents shouldn't fret about the quality of their water--even in times of drought--as long as it is treated in a plant before coming out of their taps.
As water levels dip in rivers, aquifers and reservoirs, water treatment operators make changes in the chemical cocktail they add to water--increasing or decreasing amounts of chemicals such as magnesium.
"The final product should be nearly identical" to publicly supplied water that comes out of the pipe at other times, Eggborn said.