If you've looked out the window during the last 24 hours, you know the good news: The drought is over.
Despite flooded streets and damp basements, Hurricane Floyd's withering rains actually accomplished some good. Combined with the rainstorms resulting from a couple of cold fronts in the past three weeks and the showers from Tropical Storm Dennis, Maryland, the District and Eastern Virginia are past the worst of the most recent dry spell. That one-two-three-four punch "really has broken the back of the worst part of the drought," said Harry Lins, the drought science coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. "Unless we get a dry fall, I think we've probably borne the brunt."
"The drought for this year is over," agreed Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), whose August decision to invoke statewide water restrictions was derided by Virginia officials and many in Maryland who said conditions weren't bad enough to require the prohibitions.
Glendening said he had no regrets over mandating the restrictions. "If we had not gotten this rain, where would we be right now?" he said. "It's just impossible to know. We could have been sitting here talking about the next level of restrictions."
When he announced the restrictions in August, Glendening said he hoped that a couple of gully-washing tropical storms would restore water levels. And yesterday he said that Hurricane Floyd--which actually skirted far enough away from Maryland that it did little damage--"may end up being a net plus" by ending the crisis.
Glendening lifted the restrictions Sept. 1. He was reluctant yesterday to end the call for voluntary reduction of water use, saying the drought had been an important wake-up call that people needed to reduce consumption over the long term.
"We tend to view [water] as an unlimited resource, and that's wrong," he said. "We try to save power because it costs us money. We ought to think about water the same way."
Glendening said he probably would not step back from his call for voluntary water conservation until he announces sometime in the next few days the creation of a new task force charged with looking for ways to reduce water use.
Still, he and water experts agreed that the immediate crisis has passed.
Officials in Loudoun County, the last area jurisdiction to lift mandatory restrictions, also saw a silver lining in Floyd. "We're not in a drought situation anymore," said Gary Hornbaker, director of the Loudoun County Extension Office. "We got a lot of water in the topsoil, but I hesitate to say all the effects of the summer's drought are behind us.
"The ground water is still low, and ponds are still low," he said. "There's still a concern for wells that have not come back yet. But hopefully after all this, we'll see a resurgence of those."
Although Garrett and Allegany counties in Western Maryland are still dry, having missed the plentiful rain that fell on the rest of the state, the mid-Atlantic's worst conditions now are in the mountains of western North Carolina, Lins said.
But before anybody around here starts popping the bottled water to celebrate, Lins offered some caution: "Droughts in this region tend to stick around from two to nine years. It may not be surprising if this thing goes away for a year and comes back next summer or the summer after that."
Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.