2 months of rain - in just 2 weeks 'Right now, the sponge is ... soaked'

Posted: July 29, 2004

It has been raining for only about two weeks.

But since July 12, we have had what amounts to two months' worth of drenching rains that have engorged the creeks, put the region's plant life on an all-you-can-drink diet, and turned this into an absolutely splendid period - to be a fungus.

The region has escaped cataclysmic flooding this week, thanks in part to the voracious appetite of the foliage, but the soil can't hold much more, and more showers are forecasted this weekend.

"Right now, the sponge is totally soaked," said Andrew D. Frankenfield, a plant expert with the Pennsylvania State University agriculture extension service in Montgomery County.

What's more, pollen experts warn that allergy sufferers likely will pay a price for all this moisture.

Officially, the region has had just under 8 inches of rain for the month. That's well shy of a record, but about double the norm. Besides, July already has weighed in with a 1,000-year and a 45,000-year storm.

Global warming? Anything's possible; however, the all-time standard for July - 11.66 inches - was set in 1842, according to the National Weather Service. Still, this is the wettest July since 1996, and it isn't over.

Monday's rains measured less than 2 inches at Philadelphia International Airport, but up to 6 inches fell elsewhere. Tornados were sighted in Burlington and Lancaster Counties; however, no serious injuries were reported.

The latest round of storms set off minor flooding along the Schuylkill and creeks such as the Neshaminy in Bucks County and the Crum in Delaware County. It also caused big jam-ups Tuesday at Philadelphia International Airport, where more than 700 passengers had to spend the night because of canceled flights.

But despite several hours of dramatic lightning and downpours, the latest storm didn't pack quite the disruptive power of its July 12 predecessor.

That one spawned a rare F3 tornado outside Campbellstown, Lebanon County, injuring about 25 people and damaging more than 100 houses. The odds of a powerful twister hitting that location in any given year are about 1 in 45,000, said Harold Brooks, a researcher at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.

Hours later, the storm wrung out about 13 inches of rain over Tabernacle, Burlington County, and the odds of that occurring there in any year are about 1 in 1,000, said James Eberwine, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Mount Holly office.

Although showers linger in the forecast like the humidity in the air, no major flooding is expected. As of last night, no streamflows in the region were designated as above normal, according to the weather service.

Weather service senior hydrologist Walt Nickelsberg said he was concerned about the rain for another reason: He is allergic to ragweed pollen. Experts warn that, thanks to the rain, this year's crop could be a robust one, assuming the rain stops long enough for the pollen to disperse. Typically, the season peaks in mid- to late August.

"We could have one of our highest years, if it dries out," said Dr. Donald J. Dvorin, an allergist with the Asthma Center and the region's official pollen counter. He commutes among offices in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill and Ocean County, N.J., and is concerned about what he has seen. "I see the plants growing on the side of the road," he said. "I see them all over the place. Even in Center City."

Meanwhile, mold-allergy sufferers could pay for the rains today and tomorrow. Typically, mold spores peak a day or two after the downpours.

On the plus side, the heavy rains have made mush out of predictions of a hot summer, at least so far. All this moisture will make it that much harder for a heat wave to get started, said Nickelsberg. Instead of baking the ground, the sun's energy will be used in evaporation of the water, and that also will make it easier for clouds to form and block out the sun.

While the rain has been a boon for the crops, such as the sweet corn and soybeans, it's been so wet that farmers haven't been able to get to them, said Frankenfield.

"It was a much-needed rain," said Frankenfield, "and it would have been nice if it turned off."

Contact Anthony R. Wood at 610-313-8210 or twood@phillyenwsnews.com.

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