- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

First the snipers, then the snow, heightened terrorism alerts, and now the rain have made the past nine months one extended bout with cabin fever for many in metropolitan Washington.

The region, and much of the East Coast, is mired in one of the wettest springs in recent history. The culprit is a weather system that has continuously replicated itself since September.

“It hasn’t been one of our more glorious springs around here,” said Jim Travers, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s forecast office in Sterling, Va.

The rainfall will push precipitation levels for this year to about 6 inches above normal, Mr. Travers said.

Since Labor Day, he said, perpetual low pressure in the higher atmosphere has wrought storm system after storm system, with only rare breaks for sunshine and warm temperatures.

The excess moisture has taken its toll on everyday life in the area.

The Cherry Blossom Festival was almost completely bereft of cherry blossoms, which bloomed too late. It snowed on the Orioles’ opening day at Camden Yards. Allergy sufferers have sneezed and wheezed through the spring because of the bountiful pollen born of spring showers.

This holiday weekend will bring no relief: Two to four more inches of rain are expected to fall.

“There’s not much you can do outside at all. It’s kind of tough,” said Ed Berkow, a clubhouse assistant at Needwood Public Golf Course in Derwood in Montgomery County. On six of the eight weekends this spring, rain has severely limited or completely wiped out play at Needwood.

Golfers are “very frustrated,” he said. “They’ve reserved every tee time for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and it looks like, if the weather is right, nobody will be playing.”

Mike Mitchell, coach of the Arlington Cubs baseball team in the Arlington Little League, spent four hours Sunday raking his team’s field so they could play their game the next day. Mr. Mitchell’s team of 8- to 12-year-olds is 8-0, but has had five games rained out.

“We’ve actually had makeups of makeups that we’ve not been able to play. The kids are frustrated because we’re not getting to practice or to play,” he said.

Coaches in the league are so desperate to play games they are polling parents to see how many teams will have enough players in town this weekend to play. Next week, instead of the usual two games, Mr. Mitchell’s team is scheduled to play five.

“We’re going to have kids pitching that never thought they would pitch and probably don’t want to pitch,” Mr. Mitchell said.

Area pools open this weekend, signaling the start of the swimming season for community youth teams.

Manga Dalizu, coach of the 90-member Ashton team in Silver Spring, said he plans to hold practice Tuesday, even if the weather continues to be rainy and cool.

The children are excited to get started he said, and he makes sure they don’t stay in the water too long.

“I let them get in the water, get wet, get some blue lips and get out and get some hot chocolate,” he said.

Memorial Day weekend usually marks the unofficial start of summer and the season for outdoor activities. But this year, only the most determined will be outside for much of the three-day weekend, continuing a trend that has become routine for area residents since the sniper shootings in October. Then, the three-week spate of 13 random shootings, 10 of them fatal, in Maryland, Virginia and the District kept residents around TV sets and schoolchildren on lockdown.

Concerns about terrorism continue to haunt Americans. This week, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced that the government has raised the nation’s terror alert level to high, or Code Orange. Those who don’t see that as a reason to stay inside will face the prospect of more rain.

One group that won’t be affected by the weather are military veterans, said Artie Muller, president of Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder is a group of veterans on motorcycles who head up the annual ceremony at the Vietnam memorial on Sunday in remembrance of veterans who died in combat or are still missing in action.

Veterans who died in service in all wars are the reason for Memorial Day, and nothing could keep their compatriots away from the District this weekend, Mr. Muller said.

“They are coming from all over the country, and they ride through it, no matter what,” he said. “It’ll be less pleasant, but we do what we have to do.”

A year ago, weather experts warned the public about the need for water conservation in the midst of an historic drought. From September 2001 through May 2002 only 11.98 inches fell, as recorded at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Now, the U.S. Geological Survey has ditched its “Drought Watch” Web page and installed a new one called “Water Watch,” where readers can monitor groundwater and streams, which are approaching above-normal levels.

From September 2002 through this month, 35.38 inches of precipitation have fallen at Reagan Airport, and flooding is the major weather concern this weekend.

The onslaught of cold, wet weather has been so continuous that some piles of snow from the Presidents Day weekend storm have still not completely melted. In Alexandria, a pile of snow that was 30 feet high, and 200 by 100 feet around, is “still hanging on,” said Douglas McCobb, deputy director of transportation for the city.

The pile, which now resembles a mound of dirt, is about 5 feet high, and 60 by 30 feet.

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