July 2, 2009

Dark, soggy days to brighten by July 4

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA - Heavy rains on Wednesday pushed two rivers to flood stage, caused power outages and flooded intersections across the region.

And while two more days of rain are forecast, the thunderstorms are predicted to end by Saturday’s July 4 festivities.

Several inches of rain fell in some areas of Southwest Florida on Wednesday, and most of the region remains under a flood watch until this evening. The National Weather Service flood watch includes the warning to be careful driving through standing water.

For the past two days, a stalled front has been hanging over northern Florida, amplifying a two-week shift in wind and rainfall patterns that has scattered unusual storms across the region.

The front is expected to break up Friday night, and stable air to the south is expected to lift north, allowing a return to typical summer weather here for the parades and fireworks on July 4.

“We can still expect some scattered showers and thunderstorms on the 4th of July,” said Richard Rude, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Ruskin. “It will tend to be in the afternoon and not continuous rain — or almost continuous — like we’ve had.”

The Manatee River, at Myakka Head near Kibler Ranch, was expected to reach flood stage by this morning, with predicted flooding of a nearby bridge.

The Myakka River is also expected to flood at Myakka River State Park, with a predicted crest on Friday of 7.4 feet, a few inches above flood stage.

Minor street flooding was reported in parts of Sarasota and Manatee counties on Wednesday. A lightning strike led to a fire at a $1.5 million home in the Lakewood Ranch Country Club around 5 p.m. Wednesday; the attic burned but most of the home was saved and no one was hurt.

The storms passing through the region are coming from the Gulf of Mexico, bringing moisture from the tropics, including remnant rains from the remains of a tropical wave that showed signs of becoming a tropical depression last weekend.

Typically, winds blow across Florida from the Atlantic, partly the result of a large area of high pressure off the East Coast called the Bermuda High.

In the afternoons, the southeasterly winds push hot, rising air from land seaward toward the Gulf of Mexico to interact with sea breezes flowing east from the Gulf. The collision causes warm, moist air to rise and condense into clouds, which then produce showers or thunderstorms.

Those daily storms, called sea breeze fronts, usually span the entire Southwest Florida region, accounting for a large portion of the area’s annual rainfall.

But that regular rainy season pattern has not yet formed this year, said Gransville Kinsman, manager of the hydrologic data section for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Instead, the region is in a “reverse summertime pattern” said Justin Mosely, meteorologist with SNN Local News 6.

The Bermuda High has been lingering south of Florida, pushed there by a vast area of unstable low-pressure air that stretches from the Great Lakes region to Georgia.

By Friday, the low-pressure area is expected to move north into Canada, allowing the Bermuda High to return to its normal position. The front also will break up, leaving the region with much nicer weather.

The rain this week brings a welcome respite to an otherwise dry June, Kinsman said.

But the odd weather makes the rest of the season hard to predict.

The region needs consistent above-normal rainfall to recover from three years of drought.

“We’re officially in the rainy season. It’s just the rain that we’re getting is not typical,” Kinsman said.

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