After the months-long drought, Washington's weather swung to the other extreme last month as a series of storms, capped by Wednesday night's heavy downpour, produced rainfall totals unmatched in decades.
During the month, the District was awash in 10.27 inches of rain, about a quarter of the yearly average and the most rain the city has seen in one month in 24 years, the National Weather Service said. Baltimore received 11.49 inches of rain, making it the wettest month there since 1934. Gauges at Dulles International Airport recorded 9.32 inches of rain for the month, the most since May 1988. The region now is a few inches ahead of its normal rainfall total for the year.
The parched lawns and shriveled crops of the drought have given way to mosquitoes, mushrooms and mildew. Heavy rains came too late to be of much short-term help and created some new troubles. Those withered crops and burned bushes now sit in pools of water. Previously parched lawns are too soaked to mow. The saturated soil allowed tree roots to loosen, making them vulnerable to toppling in high winds.
The wet weather exacerbated miseries for some allergy sufferers, and public health officials are carefully watching the recent explosion of the mosquito population, though no local cases of disease have been linked to the bugs. Animals that invaded the suburbs during the summer to search for water are finding many wilderness streams running over.
To vintners, once enthusiastic about the prospect of dry weather until after the grape harvest, September's rains were a reversal of fortune.
Forecasters say the weather should moderate now. "The official forecast for October calls for our area to be pretty much near normal," said Vernon Kousky, of the Weather Service. "We anticipate somewhere around three inches."
Weather experts said the dry weather that has marked the region for more than a year is likely to return. "The fact that we've had a break in this particular drought doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet," said Harry Lins, a drought science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Through the end of September, the Washington area had received 33.03 inches, compared with a nine-month normal of 29.37 inches. The average for a year is 38.63 inches.
Reservoir and river levels are mostly at or near normal. As of yesterday, the region's largest reservoir--Jennings Randolph in Western Maryland--was just over 81 percent full, with 10.8 billion gallons of potential drinking water, according to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. Because of the drought, that reservoir was tapped this summer for the first time since it was built in the early 1980s.
The two Patuxent River reservoirs operated by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission were 72 percent full, with 7.5 billion gallons. The 8.1 billion gallon Occoquan reservoir, operated by the Fairfax County Water Authority, filled up yesterday. The 4 billion gallon Little Seneca Reservoir in Montgomery County has been full since August.
Power problems associated with the month's storms continued through Wednesday night's downpour. Thousands of customers were without electricity. The Washington area got about an inch and a half of rain, but as much as six inches of rain fell in some parts of the Shenandoah Valley. By yesterday afternoon, electricity had been restored to virtually all customers.
Power companies, forced to send out extra crews after Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd as well as Wednesday's storm, said they have spent tens of millions of dollars to reconnect customers.
The heavy rains affected many aspects of the region's life.
Martha White, an allergist at the Institute for Asthma and Allergy at Washington Hospital Center, said the recent rains have been a blessing for some and a nightmare for others; the rain washed away much of the ragweed pollen but spawned rapid mold growth, which touches off problems for many people who are allergic to mold spores. And ragweed will now flourish until the year's first hard frost.
For farmers, the year's weather has been more than an annoyance. Kathy Ozer, director of the National Family Farm Coalition, said the rain was far too late to help farmers rescue crops, though in the long run it likely will help replenish the water table.
Deer, opossum, raccoons and other animals that ventured into the suburbs in search of water during the drought have headed back to the woods--or, in the case of the occasional bear, to the mountains. The frogs, salamanders and newts that survived the dry months--and many of them didn't--again have their ponds.
Hurricane Dennis caused coastal communities to lose much of their Labor Day tourism, said Ken Kuhlman, director of marketing and sales for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor's Bureau. But tourism officials said most of the month's weekends were spared.
The impact of the dry summer and soppy September is perhaps best capsulized by the predicament homeowners and roofers face. During the drought, many roofs dried out and cracked, priming them for leaks if heavy storms came. Now that they have, homeowners are beset by dripping ceilings and roofers are inundated with more calls than they can handle, especially because they can't work in the rain.
"There's an absurd amount of leaks," said Mark Leigh, service manager of Bean & Mallow Inc. in Stafford County. "In our work right now, it's so good it's bad."
Staff writers D'Vera Cohn and Jennifer Lenhart contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Rainfall Increase (This chart was not available)
CAPTION: Raindrops Are Falling (This chart was not available)