State's Spring Sprouts Earlier

By VEENA TREHAN, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON (March 24, 2008) - The next couple of weeks are likely to be wet and cool followed by a slightly warmer and rainier spring than normal, say area climate experts.

"Spring will come a little earlier this year than usual," said Heidi Stonehill, senior associate editor at the Old Farmer's Almanac, of a statewide trend of several decades.

This year she predicts slightly warmer temperatures in April, when the average temperature is 53, and May, when the average for the region is 62. And rainfall will be 1 to 2 inches above the region's normal rate of about 4 inches, although parts of Maryland could get below-average rainfall.

Allergy season, too, will be a bit earlier, with the combination of wet weather and warmer temperatures bringing out high levels of tree pollen.

"It seems every year is just a bit worse," said Mark Bruder, a nurse practitioner at the Maryland Asthma & Allergy Center's Baltimore office. The practice is extending hours starting next week as demand increases.

For the rising numbers of sufferers that some experts now estimate number one in five, Bruder advises a three-pronged approach - closing windows and possibly wearing googles, taking allergy medication and considering allergy shots.

The warming trend in the state is also affecting area fauna and flora.

"In Maryland, some flowers are coming out quite a bit earlier than 30 or 40 years ago," said Jake Weltzin of the USA National Phenology Network, an organization the U.S. Geological Survey started with the University of Arizona last August.

Honeybees are making honey earlier - about a half day per year since the 1970s - a phenomenon related to earlier plant bloom and mirrored by earlier green-up in satellite imagery of central Maryland.

The local trend may continue over the next 20 years or earlier budding could even accelerate.

"Leaves will be coming out about 10 days earlier, if the same trend follows, which is likely," said Weltzin. "Or it could even get worse because there [are] positive feedback effects on warming."

Farmers are expected to benefit from the weather trend also. Last year, drought caused corn production to drop by one-third from the previous year, but rain deficits of 6 to 8 inches in some parts of Maryland should shrink soon, according to Douglas LeComte, a senior meteorologist and drought specialist with the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.

The wetter weather picture could extend into the summer, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac. A local weather forecaster seconds the outlook.

"Going forward, I certainly don't see anything that says we're going to get back into a drought pattern," said WRC-TV Meteorologist Bob Ryan.

Gardeners are also reacting to the warm, wet season. A Baltimore Home Depot Garden Department supervisor Deborah O'May said people bought $25,000 in her department in one day, an unusually high figure before the normal peak sales season starts in late April.

"It's human nature when the weather is nice we want to get out and play," she said.

But she expects to sell more perennials and shrubs in the next several weeks as the threat of frost diminishes.

"I recommend the first, second week of April as the prime time to start," said O'May, "that's when the weather is more predictable."

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