Sometimes, the balance of life can turn on a few inches.

And, for local farmers and businesses, the 3.71 inches of rain that have fallen in the Salt Lake area so far in June - more than 2 inches beyond the normal rainfall for the entire month - may be more than they can recover from, even with warmer, drier weather forecast for the coming week.For Richard Schmidt, a farmer in West Jordan, the wet weather and cool temperatures have placed his mainstay - sweet corn - in jeopardy.

"We're at least a month behind right now," Richard Schmidt said. "We'll never catch up. The corn we've planted won't grow. Normally, by now the corn is about 2 or 3 feet tall, but now it's only 4 or 5 inches."

Jo Schmidt, Richard Schmidt's wife, tries not to fret too much about this year's growing season. But it's not easy.

"We face a great deal of uncertainty, and that's with a capital `U,' " she said. "We really don't know what to expect. Normally, we can recover, but this has been such a strange year."

Indeed it has.

The National Weather Service reported Thursday that 22 inches of snow had fallen at Alta ski resort during the previous 24 hours, and the Forest Service Avalanche Forecast Center released an avalanche warning Wednesday for the mountains of northern Utah.

Temperatures have been well below normal for the bulk of the month - nearly 30 degrees below normal Wednesday. And, though Utahns can expect temperatures to rise toward the end of the week and into next week, NWS meteorologist Kristine Johnson said the weather patterns continue to appear "erratic" in the foreseeable future.

The Schmidts face that future grounded in a solid farming past. They have been farming in West Jordan for nearly 30 years and are the third generation of Schmidt farmers in Utah. Although Richard Schmidt is quick to say he's still hopeful that the weather will turn, he remains realistic about his chances for a bumper crop.

"We're not projecting any losses this year. We just won't make very much."

The Schmidts are like other farmers across the state, many of whom have no crops in the fields because it's too wet to plant or harvest, and too cold for seeds to grow.

"It's really a problem, on several fronts," said Reed Balls of the Utah Farm Bureau. "First, it's time to be harvesting alfalfa hay. We need sunny, warm weather to cure the alfalfa, and dry ground to mow it. If they mow it and it rains, the hay will mold. But if they don't mow it, it gets long and stemmy. It's a real Catch-22."

Second, Balls said, farmers depend on having a certain number of warm days, so that their crops can mature. But with the cool weather over the past few months, he said, "the crops may have emerged from the soil, but they end up languishing in the mud."

Much like Schmidt's sweet corn.

Third, Balls said, farmers are worried the growing season won't be long enough for their crops to mature before harvest time. Many waited for warmer weather to plant their first crops of the season and are now finding themselves behind in the growing cycle.

"Farmers missed two or three weeks of planting time, especially with vegetables and other late-maturing crops. By design, they waited for a later interval. But, now they're worrying they may not have the crops ready for harvest like they planned."

As far-removed as farming may seem to many of Utah's city folk, Balls said, everyone may soon feel the pinch of belts tightening.

"Some people may say `So what if it's raining? We can always run down to the grocery store to get our food.' Well, that may be true, but at some point the food needs to be replenished."

Jo Schmidt said if things don't improve soon, shoppers will see the effects of produce shortages for themselves.

"Everything is interconnected. People forget that if the hay and grain are bad, that's feed grain. It feeds cattle, which produces milk, and cheese, and meat, and all kinds of other products. It all comes around. When something bad happens, you'll feel it."

Though things may seem gloomy now, Intermountain Farmers Association agronomist Gordon Harper said there's still hope for a successful harvest.

"We always get some of this kind of weather," he said. "Sure, maybe not to this extent - but this is just the first cutting. There's still a long time left in the growing season before we can say it's a disaster."

Farmers are not the only businesses affected by the capricious climate, either.

Greg Cayais, assistant golf pro at Nibley Park Golf Course, said their course closed Wednesday because of the weather and that play on courses throughout the city is "way down" this season.

"We've got lakes where we should have fairways," Cayais said. "It's crazy."

Beverly Perry, assistant manager at Fireplaces Inc., said their low numbers of barbecue grill sales have been countered by the high numbers of fireplaces they've sold so far this month.

"Generally, we sell about 10 grills per day during the summer. This year, we've only sold about half that. But we've been making up the difference with fireplaces, and fireplace services. Usually, we don't hardly sell any during the summer. But, because of the cold weather, no one is turning them off."

Go figure.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Precipitation for Wednesday

June 1998 has been the wettest summer month on record. The previous record was 3.66 in August 1968. Wednesday's storm totals (1.48 inches) more than doubled the previous record set in 1964 (.62 inches).

Rain Totals Inches

Foothill area 2.30

Millcreek 2.20

Holladay 1.75

Centerville 2.00

Sandy 1.45

GSL Marina 1.81

East Layton 1.52

Snow Totals Inches

Alta Ski Resort 22

Farmington Canyon 15

Christmas Meadows 12

Snowbird Ski Resort 20

Park City 3-4