May 29, 2009
Record-setting May rains bring swift end to Florida's drought
After a dry spring, 1 to 2 feet of rain in May flooded yards in Orlando and entire neighborhoods in Volusia and Flagler counties.
No one saw this drought-buster coming: a record-heavy rain soaking a record-dry Florida.
After an especially parched spring that drained streams and wilted lawns across the state's peninsula, as much as 1 to 2 feet of rain this month flooded yards in Orlando and entire neighborhoods in Volusia and Flagler counties. Already in some places, including Orlando, Daytona Beach, Kissimmee and Sanford, the May totals are a record.
"You were right at the end of your dry season, and boom," said David Miskus, senior meteorologist at the Climate Prediction Center in Maryland.
"It wasn't a tropical storm but a weird May storm that brought all the rain," said David Zierden, Florida's state climatologist in Tallahassee.
Zierden said May traditionally is one of Florida's most stable months for weather. Winter storms rarely stray into the state, and the tropical storms of warmer months aren't yet much of a bother.
But nearly two weeks ago, a late-season cold front charged into Florida, only to stall in the Orlando area. It siphoned tropical moisture off the Gulf of Mexico and delivered heavy rains day and night for several days.
All that wet weather jump-started frequent afternoon thunderstorms through this week.
By late Thursday, Orlando had been drenched with a record 14.3 inches this month, according to a National Weather Service rain gauge at Orlando International Airport. That blitzed Orlando's previous mark for May: 10.4 inches in 1976.
Downpours clobbered Volusia County, where President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency because of flooding. Nearly 22.2 inches in Daytona Beach this month eclipsed the previous May record of 12 inches in 1976.
The National Weather Service has more than 150 years of precipitation data for Orlando, Daytona Beach and other parts of Central Florida.
But records for many Volusia County communities extend back only a few years, so new official marks for May weren't hard to set.
Volunteer observers reported nearly 30 inches in Ormond Beach, 23 inches in Edgewater and 22 inches in New Smyrna Beach.
Brian Fuchs, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska, said weather conditions in Florida had been shaping up to give the state a rough wildfire season. Instead, wetlands, streams and lakes are fast filling up as a result of what looks to be a stunningly swift end of a drought.
"Who would have expected there would be weeks of so much rain?" Fuchs said. "You really need to expect the unexpected."
Particularly because June has yet to come.
Rebecca Beitsch can be reached at email@example.com or 407-540-3548. Kevin Spear can be reached at 407-420-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Posted by AG-ER Team at 5/29/2009