Water Cycle Served Fresh


Short history of the L-28
An old powerpoint, but still timely to share

The problem with the L-28 …

You wont’ find it (adequately) described in the history books.

A narrated power point from 2017

That’s where Go Hydrology steps in to fill the void. You can surf the internet all day long and will (mostly) come up dry when it comes to any literature or relevant information on the modern-day boundary between the Everglades and the Big Cypress called the L-28. The reason? To be honest, I don’t know. It’s one of the most misunderstood and greatest barriers to the effort to restore the Everglades and Big Cypress.

Caveat: I’m not saying this presentation is the best. The power point dates back to 2017, and yes, I could have alternatively let it “collect digital dust” on my computer or just posted the “unnarrated” power point. But really what good would either have done? The better solution was to narrate the power point just as I presented it in 2017. It provides a nice history of the mysterious levee, and goes a long way to unraveling why it was built.

Listening to it in review, I probably should have rehearsed it a time or two, but there is no time like the present and really no excuse not to share, especially when it helps fill the void on a perhaps the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp’s most mysterious levee and canal.

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Misconception: “The L-28 is not the natural boundary between the Big Cypress and Everglades, rather a default line.” Bob says

water table

State of the swamp
Putting May 2022 in perspective

Sheet flow rises …

And sheet flow falls.

Water depth hydrograph for Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve, using the center of the cypress dome as the zero vertical reference.

But can you see the big difference between this spring and the previous two? Okay, I know this is tough, because I’m making you read a hydrograph, but trust me, as soon as you crack the code, the hydrologic world will open up before your eyes. Focus on the three “red colored” drops in the water table over the past three years. The first (on the left) was the epic spring drydown of 2020, better know as the Year of the Moon Fish Wildfire. The water table dropped down fast and furiously from February until late May before springing up a week after it was too late (i.e. see the Moon Fish Fire). The following year (the middle drop) wasn’t as deep, and thanks to a well-timed early May rain, kept the deep spring drought monster at bay. Then comes the most recent year (i.e. the dip on the right). Without a doubt it’s still our dry time of the year, but a steady supply of April rains kept the cypress roots wet, and yes that means mushy peat, and yes that keeps wildfires if and when they strike (usually by lightning, sometimes by arson) in check.

If you still aren’t fully comprehending the top hydrograph, the second one in this post, also known as a calendar chart (or a raster chart), may very well help it all click, or as we say in the hydrologic inner circles — sink in. Can you see where the red arrow is currently pointing? That’s right, a red square. If we cross reference that to our ecological cross section underneath, that clearly indicates that the water table has dropped into the center of the cypress domes, but not to the point that the alligator holes aren’t still wet. Compare that back in time to many a year where the “red squares” disappeared. No dots at all on the chart above means the water table has dropped to the point that even the deepest gator holes and natural firebreaks have gone dry.

In sum, this wasn’t a wet spring, but it wasn’t a dry one either. The start of the wet season is under a week away.

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The Truth: “It isn’t a matter of if, but how, dry May will be in the swamp, and when (and how quickly) the wet season will start.” Bob says

How To: Read a Rain Chart
I get it, charts can be boring (without narration)

Not that I’m a wildly dynamic speaker …

Nor are rain charts especially charismatic.

Bob has a one-on-one conversation with a rain chart

But combine the two together and I think you get, well — I think you’ll see the result. At the heart of the issue is what I’ve been told so many times: “Bob, you make a splendid rain chart, but most people don’t know how to read them.” And so my journey began, hours after hours, years upon years, in the quest to make the perfect rain chart. My conclusion: I think the only way to give a rain chart its due is to allow it to talk, and speak for itself. Okay, I’ll admit. I had to add the voice. And yes, I had to juice up the charts a bit (some would say with too many colors). Just don’t say I didn’t try.

Comparison of dry season rainfall, from 1970 to present. Cool color-coded bars indicate wet winters and warm color-coded bars indicate drier than normal winter.

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#Overheard: South Florida’s water year starts on May 1st, but the wet season doesn’t officially kick in until around May 20th.

Click “Read More” to see all the hydrographs!

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dry season

Tutorial: Drought Cheatsheet
Why the swamp dries out faster than the Glades

There’s two types of drought in Florida:

Meteorologic and ecological (i.e. based on the ground).

Bob explains the ins and outs of his Soil Moisture Cheatsheet

This is especially the case in the natural lands south of Lake Okeechobee. Hydroperiod is the catch-all term to describe the duration that water persists in any given habitat throughout the year. In the Big Cypress, the term doesn’t work as well, with “soil moisture” replacing it as the operative term. So long as soils are hydric (i.e. moist) they play a powerful influence on keeping seasonal susceptibility to drought at bay, and in particularly prevent large and uncontained wildfires from springing up.

In the tutorial above, Bob explains both how he created and how you can use his weekly-updated cheat sheet to better understand (and drill down into) the subtle differences between spring drought in the Big Cypress versus the Everglades.

A closer look at the cheatsheet

Find out more about the Go Hydrology Cheatsheets at https://gohydrology.org/cheatsheets/.

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Rule: “The swamp is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depend on a goldilock’s return interval and dosage of flood and fire. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp.” Bob says

Crossing the dotted lines
How invisible lines shape our thinking

Dotted lines warp our view …

Of how a watershed naturally works

Available on Apple Podcasts and Podbean

I‘m not saying let’s do away with the lines.

All I’m saying is let’s try to find some common ground.

As seen in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

This National Park Service placard at the trailhead to Big Cypress Bend boardwalk has always intrigued me. It’s a state trail, part of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park which was established in the mid 1970s. So the placard predates the dotted lines that eventually went in, but to me – both then and today – it’s a reminder that our modern-day boundaries are not set in stone, nor should our thinking simply stop wherever they start and end.

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This Just In: “Fakahatchee Strand is getting a new visitor center at Big Cypress Bend, which will also lengthen the boardwalk.”

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Weather Drop

SFWMD Weather Forecast
Courtesy of SFWMD's Meteorology Team

South Florida Water Management District Weather
10:08AM Thursday, May 16, 2022 (mrn)

Synopsis: An upper-air trough of low pressure extending from the southeast U.S. coast to the eastern Gulf of Mexico will gradually move eastward across Florida today and lie east of the SFMWD by Tuesday. A good supply of moisture and instability immediately ahead of the trough and sufficient daytime heating should cause showers and thunderstorm to form, with southwesterly steering winds favoring the rains over the eastern part of the SFWMD from around Lake Okeechobee southward and eastward through the eastern metropolitan areas. The median areal average rainfall across this region ranges from a quarter to half of an inch, with the 90th percentile or reasonable worst-case scenario in excess of half of an inch. As the trough passes across western areas and the Kissimmee Valley by this afternoon, subsidence (sinking air) and a subsequent drying with low instability should result in essentially no rainfall, or at least little of note. On Tuesday and Wednesday, large-scale subsidence in the wake of the trough is forecast to greatly suppress typical shower and thunderstorm development. However, there should be enough low-level moisture to cause isolated rains to develop along both east and west coast sea breezes on Tuesday and then isolated or widely scattered rains on Wednesday over the interior and the west when the steering winds become easterly to southeasterly. The 10% exceedance on either Tuesday or Wednesday should be no more than about a tenth of an inch. Next, a tropical wave located over the central Caribbean Sea on Tuesday should move into the western Caribbean Thursday and Friday, with its moisture feed beginning to stream northward through the Florida Keys and far southern part of the SFWMD overnight Thursday. The wave’s moisture will also be accompanied by an influx of instability, both ingredient of which should support a large increase of rainfall and rain coverage SFWMD-wide Friday and Saturday. Given the favorable large-scale conditions accompanying the wave passage south of the area, there is likely to be an enhanced risk of locally significant rainfall area wide but especially over the interior of the SFWMD. Although the most best moisture/instability seems as if will have passed by Sunday, southwesterly steering winds and daytime surface heating should still result in a good coverage of rain probably focused over the interior and the east due to southwesterly steering winds ahead of a cold front dropping southward into north Florida by Monday morning next week. For the week ending next Monday morning, total SFWMD rainfall is forecast to be at least normal and probably above normal. Monday: Very warm over parts of the SFWMD> A few showers and isolated thunderstorms developing in the east or southeast before noon. Then scattered to locally numerous afternoon showers and thunderstorms developing south and east of Lake Okeechobee through the southeastern metropolitan areas, some of which could be heavy. Rains could continue to around or after sunset before dissipating over these areas. Then quiet overnight as drier air moves across the entire area. SW to W winds 5 to 15 mph, except S near the east coast. Winds W to WSW 5 to 10 mph overnight. Tuesday: Very warm over the interior. A general lack of much rainfall area wide and far below the daily climatological average. Whatever rains do form should occur during the afternoon to around sunset inland of the east coast along the east-coast sea breeze and inland of the west-coast along the west coast sea breeze through the Kissimmee Valley. Rains diminishing by or during the early evening. Mainly W to WNW winds of 5 to 15 mph, except for E to SE winds developing by the afternoon to early evening along and near the east coast. Wednesday: A continued reduced total amount and rain coverage compared to climatology. Afternoon rains developing over parts of the interior and then over the interior and the west by late afternoon to around sunset. Isolated rains over the far west could produce heavier totals of rain. Rain chances diminishing in the east by afternoon. Mainly E to SE winds of 5 to 15 mph in the east but with W winds of 5 to 15 mph over the west during the afternoon. E to SE winds 5 to 10 mph south of Lake Okeechobee but SW winds 5 to 10 mph north and west of Lake Okeechobee overnight. Thursday: Quiet with essentially no rain in the morning. Then isolated or widely scattered afternoon rains across the SFWMD, with a few embedded heavier rain areas. However, an increase of rains should begin rising from the south into the far southern part of the SFWMD during the afternoon, followed by a good or widespread coverage of rain overnight through the Florida Keys. SSE to S winds 5 to 15 mph during the morning but then E to SE over the eastern part of the SFWMD during the afternoon and W to SW over western areas. SE to S winds area wide overnight. Friday: A large increase of rain area wide, with total rainfall likely well above the daily climatological average. Scattered to numerous showers and thunderstorms producing a widespread coverage of rainfall, some of which could be heavy. Heaviest rains probably over the interior and the west from the afternoon to early evening. An enhanced risk of locally significant rainfall accumulations. Rains diminish late in the evening and then mostly quiet overnight. SE to S winds mainly 5 to 15 mph. Saturday: Total rainfall again probably well above the daily climatological average. A good or widespread coverage of moderately heavy or heavy rains over the interior of the SFWMD but especially around and north of Lake Okeechobee from the afternoon to early evening. An elevated risk of locally significant rainfall over these areas. After evening rains diminish, mainly quiet conditions likely overnight. SE to S winds 5 to 15 mph, except S to SW north of Lake Okeechobee (0.36″). Sunday: Low-confidence forecast. Little rain in the morning, but scattered to locally numerous showers and thunderstorms forming over the interior and the east during the afternoon. Rains diminish during the early evening. SE to S wind 5 to 15 mph, except SW north of Lake Okeechobee, with winds becoming W to NW area wide overnight (0.27″).

Day 1

Go to SFWMD’s Weather Page

Thank you to the Meteorology Team at South Florida Water Management District for this forecast. I always learn something new when I read it, whether it be an atmospheric process or a new word. And more than any other forecast, it really lets you get the big picture of when and where rain may fall. The one problem is it’s buried on their website, thus my inspiration to feature it on Go Hydrology.

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Proverb: “All droughts end in flood.”

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Major tourist draw?
And why it's bigger than it looks

It may not look like much …

At least at first glance.

Ochopee is home of the world’s smallest post office

And really there’s not much of a view …

Now that Brazilian Pepper has boxed it in.

And possibly the most photographed. But why?

But believe it or not, the rather non-descript shack is one of the swamp’s biggest visitor draws, even bigger than Monroe Station before it burned down. I’m often left to wonder why. Maybe its small size makes it easy to photograph, and photograph it people do. By the hundreds. Maybe even more than Naples Pier. Well, maybe not that much. But a lot. Which is all the more perplexing because its a very claustrophobic spot, surrounded by a rather unsightly and impenetrable thicket in back, at an odd bend in the Tamiami Trail in close proximity to tractor trailers rumbling past, and on an uneven gravel parking lot. Yet there they are, tour bus after tour bus unloading passengers to line up one after the other, sometimes in groups, to take a photograph almost as if it were the Statue of Liberty or some other national spot of acclaim. Important detail: It doesn’t even have restrooms!

More about the building: It has a hydrologic pedigree. It was previously a pump house for the farm field in back. When a fire burned down original building to the ground in 1943, the pump house was brought in as a makeshift fix. Eighty years later its still there.

To me it’s one of the great mysteries of the swamp. Other similarly small post offices scattered throughout the swamp were closed down without fan far. Why this one has both withstood the test of time and remained such a popular destination eludes me every time I drive by. Only gators rival the post office for being more photographed. And yes, the cypress trees are jealous!

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Trivia: Ochopee Post Office is 61.3 square feet, or about 6′ x 10′.