The lack of rain has been both good and bad for Southwest Florida.
It’s good because Lake Okeechobee levels have receded several feet in the past six months, and that helps reduce the chances of large-scale releases during the blue-green algae season.
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It’s bad, though, because local wetlands are drying up, and it could lead to water shortages for people living on well water if the rainy season doesn’t kick in soon.
“Any day now would perfect,” said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani, when asked when he’d like to see start of daily rains. “I’m seeing an extended dry season that a lot of people might define as a drought right now. I’m starting to see some wetlands drying out, and I don’t want my well to go dry.”
The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports that all of Southwest Florida is abnormally dry and that the eastern half of Collier County and parts of Monroe are in a moderate drought.
May 15 is the historic average of the beginning of daily rains and is considered the start of the rainy season, although significant precipitation may not arrive here until June.
Cassani said the rains, when they come, will wash pollution off the landscape that has built up over the dry season.
It’s called the first-flush effect, and it happens every summer.
“The downside is typically the longer the drought, the worse the first flush of the season will be in terms of pollutant loading,” Cassani said. “We get 90% of the pollutants with the first 10% of runoff. So we’re not talking about natural ecosystem anymore. We’re talking about a built environment.”
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The dry pattern will end.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is calling for above-average rain between now and August, according to its latest reports.
But the short-term forecast is for dry conditions.
“(Chances are) slim really,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Close. “Maybe over the weekend there will be a shower or thunderstorm. Hopefully we’ll see some rain this weekend because some people haven’t had rain in four or five weeks.”
Close said there’s nothing strange about this dry season, that the daily rainfall patterns start at different times each summer.
“In 1998 it took until the end of June,” Close said. “Every year is different. That was after a real wet El Nino, but then it dried out and it wasn’t good. It rained on June 8 but really didn’t get going until the third week of June.”
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Close said a high pressure ridge is keeping rain clouds from developing over our area.
The dry conditions have also contributed to recent wildfires, mostly in rural areas well away from the coast.
A late start to the rainy season would continue to help with Lake Okeechobee levels, which have been elevated for the past six months.
High levels during the summer months can pose a threat to the Caloosahatchee River and its estuaries if large volume releases from the polluted lake are needed, which is often the case when a large storm or hurricane is threatening South Florida or the Kissimmee area.
“May is historically a transition month and can be wet or dry,” Col. Andrew Kelly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. “A few more weeks of dry weather would be welcome news, and the current forecast seems to give us a good chance at getting that dry weather.”
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