COLLEGE PARK – Maryland’s dry spell is bordering on a regional drought, and the rain in the forecast is unlikely to change that status.
Some of the state’s driest regions were expected to see isolated showers Wednesday into Thursday, according to the National Weather Service, with more expected as a front comes through this weekend.
Still, 84 percent of Maryland is experiencing dry conditions ranging from extreme drought in southeastern Allegany County and southern Washington County to abnormally dry from eastern Frederick County into Montgomery, Prince George’s, Harford and St. Mary’s counties, among other areas, according to NWS meteorologist Kevin Witt.
The summer’s dry conditions prompted the Drought Coordination Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to issue a drought watch, the second level in a four-step, COG response plan. The next level is a drought warning, instituted when the “combined water supply storage at Jennings Randolph and Little Seneca reservoirs drops to 60 percent of capacity for 5 consecutive days.”
COG defines a drought emergency as when there is a 50 percent probability of not being able to meet the next month’s water demands and requires mandatory water restrictions.
Precipitation over the past month was 50 percent below normal, according to a press release from COG.
WJLA television meteorologist Steve Rudin said there may be a bit of rain over the next couple of weeks but no “dramatic improvement” is expected.
National Weather Service rainfall totals from Hagerstown Regional Airport show the area is nearly 8 inches below the average precipitation level from June through the first three weeks of September.
“The lack of rain has made it very difficult,” for farmers, said Valerie Connelly, director of government relations at the Maryland Farm Bureau. Their crop yields are lower, making it difficult to repay loans and leaving them with little extra to spend on new farming practices next year.
Maryland farmers project yields of 100 bushels per acre for corn, down 45 bushels from last year, said University of Maryland Farm Management Specialist Wesley Musser. Soy bean yields dropped from 42 to 30 bushels per acre. This is the “worst it’s been since 2002,” he said.
The state’s drought was so severe in 2002 that emergency conditions were declared and water restrictions imposed over much of the state, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment website. Nancy Rose of Clear Meadow Farm, known for its sunflower fields, saw the drought’s effect firsthand. She expects a 30 percent loss in revenue from her corn crop as well as lower yields in soy beans. The farm also has had to provide hay for cattle because grazing conditions are so poor.
The impact on her family is likely to continue into next year, Rose said. However, she hopes that the “dramatic effects” of this drought will be offset by increased crop prices.
Baltimore and the Eastern Shore are experiencing much less severe conditions than in Western Maryland.
“We’re having an average year,” said Jimmy Lewis, Agriculture Agent for Caroline County.
Officials won’t know the exact economic impact of the drought until the future, but, Musser said, most farmers recover eventually from periodic low yields.
Farmers are not the only ones seeing the weather’s impact on business.
Local golf courses like Paint Branch Golf Course of Prince George’s County uses roughly 30,000 gallons of water a day.
“Everybody across the whole region is struggling from this summer,” said Manager Lee Carroll. Carroll said the golf course will cut back on water use if dry conditions continue. “Everybody needs to do their part.”