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Wanted: April Showers

Chris Patterson
News Journal

(4/1) Matthew Kramar, Senior Forecaster for the National Weather Service, is not overly concerned about the lack of rain, despite the fact that February was the driest month in the Washington area since they started keeping records in 1872.

So far in 2009, measurements taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service station at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport show the area is down nearly six inches of precipitation from the average.

No one has to tell Ken Wisner that. He and his family run Glade Link Farm in New Midway and he watches the weather, and particularly the precipitation right now, pretty closely.

"We went into winter in pretty good shape, but in recent months we've been way below normal," he said.

Wisner, a retired Frederick County extension agent, said there is good news and bad news about the lack of rain. When a golf course like the one near his farm is irrigating in March that's very unusual. It makes you nervous, he said.

But on the plus side, some farmers have been able to do some plowing and fertilizing to get a jump on the season. Normally they might not be able to do that now because the fields would be mud, he said.

Of course, Wisner is concerned if it continues like this for much longer, he and his family may find themselves irrigating their farm from their two ponds. Both ponds are full now, but they try to save them for the summer months during dry spells.

And of course, there is the expense of farming these days to think about.

"The cost of planting anything at this point is expensive," Wisner said. "The cost of fuel is a little better and fertilizer is still way up there. You depend on the moisture to make everything work."

Current water sources doing ok

Joe Wivell Jr's farm is on a well, but he said he is not concerned about his well going dry. His old hand-dug well was replaced in 1998 and the new one yields enough water to care for about 20 head of cattle and his horses, even when it's been dry.

That doesn't mean he isn't keeping an eye on the weather, but he's not too worried yet.

Those folks with wells that are not producing as well as Wivell's may remember a few years back a drought that was good business for those digging wells, but hard on property owners and the towns providing water to their residents.

Wells are a big source of water for the town of Emmitsburg, which also gets its water from Rainbow Lake and sometimes buys water from Mount Saint Mary's University's. Town manager Dave Haller's February monthly report documented that Rainbow Lake - which provides about half of the town's water - is full and holding at the spillway, thanks to a good amount of water averaging over the last six months.

While the town only received .8 inches of precipitation in February (and the average is 3 inches), there was a precipitation surplus of 1.7 inches for the period from Sept. 1, 2008 through Feb. 28, 2009.

Mayor Jim Hoover said the town will continue to watch the situation closely, as they always do, but currently the water levels are good enough that they do not plan on considering any water restrictions. Conservation is always recommended, he said, but there will be no limitations put on water use for now.

Predicting and preparing for the future

Matthew Kramar of the National Weather Service said the reason it was so dry in January and February was likely due to a cold and extremely dry lower level air mass. Though there was often a significant amount of moisture passing over the area at a high level, the lower level air mass was so dry that it absorbed the moisture and none of it actually made it to the ground, he said.

The latest climate projection center information suggests temperatures for the next couple of weeks will be below normal over much of the Midwest and the Appalachians. For the next month to three months, the National Weather Service models predict equal chances of average temperatures.

For the next month, they predict a slight chance that precipitation will be below normal. However, over the next three months the NWS is predicting equal chances of precipitation, which is "not a clear indicator towards either," Kramar said.

Audrey Hillman, Master Gardener for Adams County, Pa. and Emmitsburg area resident, said she is also not terribly concerned about the water shortage yet. Her lack of immediate concern is because the plants and trees don't need a lot of rain at this point.

"Right now it's not too bad and the soil is cool…The plants are not waking yet. The trees are just starting to wake. There is not a big draw from them yet," Hillman said.

But, she added, what is normally a "mud season," is a very dry season so far. Once the ground warms a little more, the water draw from trees and plants will grow substantially.

At this point, Hillman said those concerned about an ongoing dry spell should consider getting soaker hoses before the stores run out. Rain barrels can also really help by gathering and holding water for new plantings. It's still a little soon to hook rain barrels up, she said, as a good freeze could freeze drains.

And conservation is also important. "I water for survival, not thriving," Hillman said.

To view the National Weather Services measurements and predictions, go online to