May 5, 2011

Water Woes Worsen

This year's dry season tortured South Florida, so much so that officials today said that we need the rainy season to bring a tropical disturbance just to help us get back to normal.

But what the rainy season will bring is unknown.

"We don't know precisely what this wet season will produce," said Susan Sylvester, spokeswoman for the South Florida Water Management District. "But we need this wet season to produce at least normal rainfall."

National Weather Service and water management officials met here this morning to present their predictions of the rainy season and to say where South Florida stands in its dry season. While officials are hopeful for an extremely rainy wet season, they say it just might not be enough.

Robert Molleda, weather service meteorologist, said May through July in the past has been shown to bring "slightly above normal rainfall", but the problem is he doesn't know if that will be enough to rescue the region from its extreme drought.

The rainy season, which tends to start at the end of May, usually accounts for 70 percent of the year's rainfall and we can expect the most rainfall as the past has shown from Memorial Day through the Fourth of July.

"If we end up even near normal that's still not going to be enough for us to totally recover," Molleda said.

In the past few months, the weather phenomenon called La Nina has brought what it is expected to, drier-than-normal conditions.

But, Molleda said, South Florida is going through a transition period now where La Nina is starting to move out and a more neutral system is moving in - making room for more rainy days. He added that the weather service is predicting a wetter-than-normal second half of the wet season with also warmer-than-normal temperatures. Meteorologists are also predicting temperatures to be quite warm.

Although meteorologists are predicting all of this, Molleda said, "we don't have a good feeling for when it is starting."

He said the transition will likely be gradual, but the first indication will be a lot of rainy days with thunderstorms.

From October 1 to April 30, the Palm Beach International Airport has reported a third of the normal amount of rainfall inches, which is the second lowest amount in history.

The water management district has recorded the level of Lake Okeechobee has dropped to 10 feet 8.5 inches - dropping almost a foot in the past month. Although this is problematic for canal levels, the lowest level Lake Okeechobee has dropped to is about eight feet in 2007.

The low lake levels required water managers to impose a two-days-a-week water restriction for the 16-county district in March.

Sylvester said the restriction is not even close to being over yet, and homeowners should be conserving water as much as possible during this "critical" time.

By Alexandra Seltzer, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

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