ANNAPOLIS – There’s no drought in Maryland, and despite the lack of rain, the state is better off than it was in 1999, state officials said.
“We’re not getting too worried,” said U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Wendy McPherson. “Water supply is OK, there aren’t many crops growing, but it’s the future we’re concerned about.”
Maryland is in the “watch” stage, or the second of four stages used to determine drought conditions. The final stage is “emergency,” and constitutes a drought.
Factors for defining drought include rainfall, stream flow, and groundwater and reservoir levels. Maryland’s current groundwater and reservoir levels are mostly normal, but lack of rain and low stream flow is what has officials concerned.
Rainfall is running 28 percent of normal for October, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Some streams, particularly in Carroll and Harford counties, are at record low levels. The longer the area goes without rain, the worse the other factors get.
“This is the time that we usually get a recharge,” McPherson said. “The streams are being fed mostly by groundwater and that’s going to keep going down because there is no rain.”
November is a critical month for determining the effects on next year’s growing season. If a lot of rain comes within the next few weeks, then the chances of drought will be all but eliminated.
Because spring and summer saw sufficient rain, crops for the most part fared well compared to the summer of 1999.
“The timing of the drought was fairly good for the summer crops,” said Don Vandrey, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. “The drought of 1999 was all summer long and the summer crops just never got off the ground,” he said.
However, if rain doesn’t come within the next few weeks, crops like winter wheat could be damaged, Vandrey said.
“If we don’t get water within the next three or four weeks, the seeds themselves can die,” he said.
A continuing lack of precipitation through the winter would have a negative impact on the spring growing season, McPherson said.
“We may go into next year with a deficit,” she said. “We’re going to need above-level precipitation if we’re going to have a normal spring.”
The worst impact the lack of rain has had is the high number of wild fires. Area firefighters have responded to more than 100 fires in the past few weeks, said Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chuck Porcari.
“For Maryland, these are extraordinarily large fires,” he said. “This is all relative to the fact that there is a lack of moisture in the ground.”
Maryland’s only weather-related restriction is a statewide ban on open fires in woodlands issued by Gov. Parris N. Glendening on Nov. 9. Although water restrictions are not in place, said Saeid Kasraei of the Maryland Department of the Environment, the state is encouraging people in northern counties within the drought watch area to conserve water.
“It’s not time to panic,” Kasraei said. “It’s time to be concerned.”