June 28, 2011

Florida Rain: Better Late than Never

The rainy season has been sputtering at best this year over much of Florida, but a change in the weather pattern will allow more generous rainfall in the coming days and weeks.

Blame it on a ridge of high pressure extending westward from the central Atlantic Ocean this spring acting like a barrier to moisture. While the southern counties and a little chunk of the west-central counties got some rainfall starting in late May, the remainder of the state did not, or received very little rain.

The flow of moisture has opened up from both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico this week.

While there is still some unpredictability of thunderstorms, due to their random nature, the daily mosaic of the tropical downpours will cover most real estate with time.

More and more of the storms will bring downpours and not just lightning strikes. Mainly dry thunderstorms in recent weeks have been compounding the problem, by starting new fires.

Some areas will get rain on a daily basis, while most other areas should get rain every few days.

Throw in a couple of weak tropical systems, known as tropical waves into the mix and there can even be some hefty rainfall hitting multiple areas over the next couple of weeks.

Drought since the winter has led to one of the nastiest wildfire seasons on record in the Sunshine State. As many as several dozen new wildfires were breaking out on a daily basis for a time.

Since the start of the year close to 3,800 separate wildfires have burned 200,000 acres according to the Florida Division of Forestry.

While well short of the fire seasons of 1989, when 645,000 acres burned; 1998, when 507,000 acres burned; and 2001, when 404,000 acres burned, it is already the eleventh worst fire season on record.

The dry weather has led to great recession of water levels in Florida's many freshwater lakes and canals.

Usually during June, the arrival of the tropical downpours known as the rainy season mark an end or a great decline in wildfires.

However, the persistent lack of rain and dry ground has delayed this decline.

Fortunately, it appears that now, finally progressively more downpours are on the way, which should lead to a decline in the number of new fires.

People will still need to use extreme caution outdoors with open fires, cigarettes and power equipment until the landscape moistens up and vegetation greens up.

Recently, two firefighters lost their lives battling blazes in Florida, when shifting winds suddenly caused the Blue Ribbon Fire to overtake their position.

Because of the rainfall deficit that has already occurred and the potential for a less rainy, rainy season this year, the pattern change may not alleviate all of the drought and wildfire problems.

By Alex Sosnowski, Expert Senior Meteorologist - Accuweather.com

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