1996Spot News Reporting

After a Dry Summer, Listen to the Rhythm!

By: 
Robert D. McFadden
September 18, 1995

It slanted down from the lowering sky like showers of silver javelins. It lashed dusty windowpanes, beat tattoos on parched leaves and darkened the bone-dry earth. It dripped from eaves and ran in silken rivulets into arid gardens and iridescent streets. The gray windy air was fresh again with a sense of life renewed.

After months of deepening drought in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, a soaking, drenching, cooling rain fell for 12 hours yesterday -- 1 to 2 inches in most areas -- bringing nourishment to wilting vegetation, a trickle of hope for sunken reservoirs and welcome relief from a monotonous skein of sunbaked days.

Like approaching autumn, the rain was hardly big news. But there had been less than a quarter of an inch of it in the region since Aug. 1 and yesterday's steady rain, while no deluge, loosened the hardscrabble landscape, left clumps of trees gleaming like emeralds, lightened the mood for rainy-day stay-at-homes and made some who ventured out feel like singing in the rain.

"I love the rain," Becky Jardin, wrapped in a raincoat, gushed as she gazed up into the drizzle at Fulton Mall and J Street in Brooklyn. "I have my suit, my boots -- no problem. I love walking in the rain. It's a nice day, cool, not hot like the last couple of weeks. It's just perfect."

Her friend in a yellow rain slicker, Jennifer Clemente, agreed, adding: "I started out this morning when it was pouring. Everybody was sleeping. I put on my boots and hood. I love it."

In Trumbull, Conn., Katherine Christjaner recalled another of life's small joys: being awakened on a Sunday morning by the pitter-patter of raindrops overhead. "It's been such a long time," she said, "since I felt that cozy, safe feeling of rain falling on the roof."

The rain brought a sharp change of hue and tempo to a New York City that has seen a succession of still, golden days under a burning sun. Yesterday, the wind drove the clouds in dark flocks over midtown, over Brighton Beach and Jamaica, and the city became a canvas of gray buildings and gray streets.

For some, it was a day to curl up with a novel or listen to Billie Holliday blues by a streaming window. For others, it was a day to stroll down to the harbor to watch the gulls argue and the mists drift like gunsmoke. At the 79th Street Boat Basin on the Hudson, sailboat masts rocked with metronome rhythms and the only sounds were the clang of rigging and the wash of waves. There were no crowds, even in Times Square, where a handful of tourists and denizens wandered under the darkened marquees, past empty sidewalk cafes and neon signs winking allure at no one.

The National Weather Service said the rain began falling over the region shortly after midnight and went on steadily all through the morning, moving from southwest to northeast. By early afternoon, it had tapered off to a quiet drizzle but had left 1.06 inches in Central Park and up to 2 inches in parts of New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island.

It was unclear how much rain fell over the New York City reservoirs upstate, said Natalie Milner, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection, who noted that the reservoirs were down to 56.8 percent of their capacity by Friday, far below the 78.1 percent that is normal for the date.

"Any rain will help," Ms. Milner said, "but one rain will not immediately relieve the situation." City officials said last week that it would take 15 to 20 inches of rain to restore the reservoirs to normal levels.

In New Jersey, well over an inch of rain fell in most sections, bringing September precipitation up to near-normal levels. But the weather service in Trenton said it would take six more one-inch rainfalls to make up for the rain deficit that has built up over the last year.

Much of New Jersey was placed under a drought warning Friday by the Delaware River Basin Commission. The warning, covering 7 million people in four states, including 1.7 million in New Jersey, seeks voluntary water conservation. On Wednesday, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman declared a drought emergency, imposing mandatory water restrictions on 3 million people in seven northern counties.

In Connecticut, yesterday's rain raised the spirits of many, especially professional and private gardeners. "I'm cold and wet but happy for the first time in months," Marino Cicconi, who works at the Twombly Nursery in Monroe, said. "I have a feeling the worst may be over."

But Scott Jamison, the owner of Oliver Nurseries in Fairfield, who says the drought is the worst he has seen in 22 years, had mixed feelings. "Seeing the rain today is wonderful," he said. "But I hope it comes back on Tuesday or Wednesday because we need a lot of it."

Pamela Weil, a Westport gardener and editor of Connecticut Gardener, a newsletter, said yesterday was only a good beginning. "I was thrilled to see the rain, especially because it's the kind that's slow and steady and really has an impact on the soil," she said. "But the damage from this drought is going to be felt for a long time to come."

But Bob McElhearn, a National Weather Service meteorologist on Long Island, held out little hope for another downpour in the next few days. His forecast called for more sunny weather today, tomorrow and Wednesday. There appeared to be no more rain in the outlook before Thursday, he said, and even then only a chance of showers.

Not everyone welcomed the rain yesterday. Todd Grant, a 37-year-old writer/waiter who lost his apartment this month and has been homeless in Manhattan, smiled wryly when asked about the weather. He had slept under a scaffolding on East Sixth Street between Avenues C and D during the rain, he said.

"In the 10 days I have been doing this, it's been so warm and beautiful," Mr. Grant recalled. "I forgot how inclement weather was going to affect me."