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Northeast Drought Drains Reservoirs, Wrecks Crops

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

A prolonged dry spell has seized the Northeast, withering crops and sucking rivers and lakes so dry that Baltimore has only a month’s worth of drinking water in its reservoirs.

Maryland declared the first drought emergency in its history Friday, joining Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and scores of communities in urging people and businesses to curb water use.

The Saharan summer is so worrisome that forecasters are rooting for a tropical storm. Better yet, two.

“You could send the remnants of a hurricane over us for a day or two. That would be nice,” said Matt Belk, a meteorologist in Charleston, W.Va. “That’s pretty much what it would take to bring a quick end to the drought.”

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The water level in Maryland’s Liberty Reservoir is 24 feet below average, with less than half its capacity of 43 billion gallons.

“We expect this drought to get worse before we see serious relief,” said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.

Baltimore, which has received just 58% of its normal rainfall in June and July, has 35 days of water immediately on hand, though the city can tap the Susquehanna River to serve customers through early 2000.

Not since 1988 has the Northeast had a widespread drought this severe. Weather watchers say that, if it worsens, it could rival the awful five-year drought of the early 1960s. In several places, it already has: Maryland is seeing its worst drought in 30 years. In northern Virginia, meteorologists went back to the 1930s to find drier weather.

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Chicago reported an additional heat-related death Friday, bringing to 18 the number of victims since the hot weather settled over the Midwest. Another victim in St. Louis raised the city’s death toll to 16, and Cincinnati had recorded 10 fatalities.

Elsewhere in Missouri and Illinois, there were an additional 23 deaths as the core of the heat bore down on the center of the country. Tennessee has had three deaths, including two Memphis youngsters left in overheated vehicles, and Georgia recorded two deaths.

In Oklahoma, authorities found a 6-year-old girl dead in her parents’ roach-infested mobile home without any ventilation. Her death was blamed on heat and neglect. Two elderly victims likely died from heat in the state.

The heat wave has been blamed for at least 93 deaths nationwide since July 19.

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Temperatures were expected to ease throughout the afflicted region during the weekend, as a cold front edged into northern Minnesota, bringing refreshing but potentially dangerous thunderstorms.

“There is a slight risk for severe thunderstorms, which could cause flooding,” said National Weather Service forecaster Rick Hiltbrand in Chanhassen, Minn., near Minneapolis.


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