As the weekend drizzled to a close yesterday, what once was the indecisive Hurricane Dennis performed a final trick: It vanished, leaving a residue of rain and thundershowers--and summer's finale in soggy shambles.
Dennis, downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, meandered through central Virginia yesterday, spreading moisture from eastern North Carolina to south-central Pennsylvania. Forecasters predicted that an additional one to three inches would fall in some parts of that region by today.
Before it fizzled, the hurricane spawned a tornado in Hampton, Va., on Saturday that did an estimated $7.2 million in damage. It ripped roofs off houses and apartments, destroyed 150 homes, damaged about 800 cars and slightly injured more than a dozen people.
President Clinton used a Labor Day speech in Norfolk to declare Virginia a disaster area, making the state eligible for federal aid, including housing for displaced people and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
Julie Arthur, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the weather system had weakened as it moved farther inland.
"It is not packing the same punch," she said, noting that a slow-moving cold front approaching from the west could produce spotty showers in the Washington area today.
Other than flood watches in some areas, the severe weather warnings of recent days had tapered off by yesterday, but it was too late to revive the sense of frivolity normal to a Labor Day weekend.
Beach patrols along the Maryland and Delaware coasts said Dennis was responsible for holding down holiday crowds. Although the sun appeared and the storm-inspired waves died down, swimmers at Rehoboth Beach were warned not to go into the water deeper than their waists.
Rehoboth Beach Patrol Capt. Jate Walsh, a 28-year veteran, merely had to glance at the beach to sum up the weather's impact. "This is not even a good Saturday afternoon crowd," Walsh said. "I think the weather got people fed up and they left."
Or they never showed up.
Lee Gerachis, owner of Ocean City's Malibu Surf Shop, knew immediately to expect an atypical day when he arrived for work. "I saw parking spaces," he said. "Normally there is nothing available by 8 a.m."
Heavy weekend rains in the Washington area raised water levels on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, and U.S. Park Police closed Hains Point for more than six hours yesterday because of flooding. Weather services reported rainfall this month of 1.58 inches at Dulles International Airport, 1.24 inches at Reagan National Airport and 2.34 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Still, the rains have not brought the drought relief that many had hoped for.
"This is seriously helping with the drought in many locations, but I don't want to say it is enough to end drought restrictions in some areas," said Mark Tobin, a meteorologist with Accu-Weather.
Although about two inches of rain fell over most parts of New Jersey during the weekend and raised reservoir levels, the storm still did not dump enough rain to lift the state's drought restrictions, said Loretta O'Donnell, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Reservoir levels are about 10.5 percent below normal, she said. Two weeks ago, the state's 12 reservoirs were 12 percent below normal.
"Getting into a drought takes a while, and leaving a drought takes a while, too," Jim Poirier, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, told the Associated Press. "It's not just a matter of getting a few good rains. Sustained precipitation over a few months is needed to replenish ground water and other water supplies. That's why restrictions have not been lifted yet. And they shouldn't be until we're sure the threat of running out of water is not there."
Poirier said hat the hard, dry ground can soak up only so much water, and the rest becomes runoff, flowing into storm drains and streams and, ultimately, the ocean.
Like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware have not lifted their drought restrictions. Maryland lifted its restrictions last week.
As some Western Maryland travelers returned from Labor Day weekend trips yesterday, a storm-related power outage left them in the dark when they got home.
To repair utility poles that fell on Interstate 68 after being struck by lightning Sunday, repair crews switched off power to about 5,500 Frostburg area residents yesterday from 2 to 6 p.m., said Allegany Power spokeswoman Midge Teahan.
Customers were expected to be without power again from midnight to 4 a.m. today, Teahan said. Maryland State Police were expected to close the highway near Frostburg after midnight to allow the repairs, she said.