YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Weather Throws Northeast a Big, Wet Curveball

Relentless rains wash the fun out of weekends and keep tourists away from resorts. 'People are depressed,' says a happy tanning salon owner.

June 21, 2003|John J. Goldman and Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Al O'Hagan hopes it doesn't rain today on his Coney Island parade celebrating the start of summer fun and sun.

But the forecast is gloomy: cloudy with rain.

Given that rainfall is fast approaching record levels in New York and the Northeast, the parade's theme of merrily marching mermaids has a certain irony.

"We've never seen anything like it. Haven't had a good day since Easter Sunday.... People were rediscovering Coney Island, but this has been defeated because of the weather," said O'Hagan, executive director of the Brooklyn amusement area's chamber of commerce. "There's no way business can make up for the losses."

Along much of the East Coast, a snowy winter has been followed by a miserable spring. Weekends have been washouts, tourism has plummeted and businesses have suffered. Runoff from the rain has damaged some ecological systems as streams and rivers surged over their banks.

And from youth leagues to the major leagues, the weather has thrown baseball a big, wet curve.

"This has been the worst spring weather I can remember in all the years I've been in baseball, and it's had a pronounced economic effect," Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, said Friday. "I mean it's not just the postponements. Even when we're getting games in, the clubs are reporting that their day-of-game sales have been hurt badly by cold weather and the threat of rain."

Selig said attendance is down 4% this year compared with last season, because of the weather and the weak economy.

In New York City, it has rained on 28 of the last 51 days, and meteorologists expect the total to break the June record of 9.78 inches, set 100 years ago. According to the National Climatic Data Center, it is the wettest spring on record for Virginia and the Carolinas. Atlanta, known for its clement weather, had more rain in May than Seattle.

Some meteorologists say the record rains, which were preceded by four years of drought, could be the result of a new, little-known phenomenon the National Weather Service calls a North Atlantic oscillation, which pulls moisture up the coast from the Gulf of Mexico.

But Joseph Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, said the East's sopping spring probably isn't related to Southern California's "June gloom," in which a thick Pacific marine layer moves inland, attracted by the warmer air.

At least, in the East, the drought that last year threatened to drain reservoirs is over.

Officials of United Water of New Jersey said the four reservoirs that the company operates are at 103% of capacity. The excess water is spilling over dams into the Hackensack River.

"The drought of the previous two years is a forgotten memory here on the East Coast because Mother Nature has righted the ship," said Rich Henning, a spokesman for the water company.

Many people find the incessant downpours depressing.

"I've been getting a ton of complaints about the weather," said Dr. Deborah Carver, a Manhattan psychiatrist.

"This rain is relentless. It goes on and on. It is never-ending," added Deborah Lupard, manager of the DFN art gallery in Manhattan. "People like to talk about the weather when they have nothing else to talk about. But now, you can really talk about the weather."

Some beachgoers, searching for tans and perhaps a bit of psychic comfort, have been visiting tanning salons.

"The lack of sun in this area has been tremendous for our business," said Scott Shortnacy, the owner of Solar Planet tanning salons in the Washington, D.C., area. He said business has been up 50% this month.

"People are depressed," Shortnacy said. "[Customers] come in and tan and feel so much better afterward. The warmth and heat and light makes them feel good."

Along East Coast beaches, hotel and motel operators contemplating the rain and empty rooms also are depressed.

"It's the slowest year in eight," said Dan Miller, owner of the Summer Place Hotel at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.

At the Castle in the Sand Hotel in Ocean City, Md., convention groups have helped business somewhat. But the rain has cut into profits.

"The weather, it's definitely been a deterrent," said Carol Dickel, the hotel's general manager. "I think the town itself is really suffering.... You hit restaurants, you hit the boardwalk, everything is definitely off. The parking lots seem empty."

The record rains have spilled hog waste into fields from thousands of waste lagoons spread throughout eastern North Carolina. The spillage has resulted in hundreds of violation notices for pork producers. It has also spurred a fight in the state Legislature over whether to relax enforcement provisions of waste levels -- a move opponents say will endanger the environment.

In Catawba, S.C., residents jumped in kayaks and canoes to rescue rocky shoals spider lillies, which were swept down the swollen Catawba River from a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Adding to all the woes are worries that stagnant water from the record rainfall will breed mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

But some people see a silver lining.

"The more rain we get, the more beautiful the fall foliage will be," said Karen Strand, who works at the front desk of the Barrows House Inn in Dorset, Vt. "If you get the moisture, the leaves will turn slowly and retain their luster."


Goldman reported from New York and Rosenblatt from Washington, D.C. Times staff writer Ross Newhan and researchers Lynette Ferdinand, in New York, and Rennie Sloan, in Atlanta, contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles