Barry makes mark

Barry kick starts rainy season
SFL Weekly Watersheds Summary: May 28 – June 3

WEATHER. Tropical storm Barry made its mark peninsula, and nation-wide. Radio talk-show host Bruce Williams, who is based out of Tampa where the storm made landfall, announced the arrival of rain in jubilation to his national audience. So not only has the Lake’s low level received a national spotlight, but so too did Barry’s drought-quenching Florida-wide rains. Barry put out literal fires across Florida, in the Big Cypress National Preserve, and inside Lake Okeechobee’s perimeter levee; but has not figuratively stamped out the region’s long-term drought situation.
Barry dropped a little over 2 inches of rain district wide. A whopping 5 inches of rain blanketed the West Palm Basin, the Upper Kissimmee Basin received just around 4 inches, Water Conservation Areas 1 (Loxahatchee) and 2 received around 3 inches, 2.5 inches fell in Miami Dade, WCA3, and Big Cypress National Preserve, and less than 2 inches of rain fell on the Lower Kissimmee Basin, Lake O, East Caloosahatchee, and the Southwest Coast. In comparison, the District-wide weekly rain average for the rainy season is a little under 2 inches per week. So it was a much needed drenching, and pretty evenly spread.

History books tend to be better at remembering landfalls of hurricane-strength storms than those of the lower-order tropical variety, as was Barry. In geographical terms, marking a tropical storm’s landfall is more a stab in the dark in the middle of a diffuse cloud mass, in comparison to the pin-point accuracy of picking where a hurricane’s eye makes landfall. Historically speaking, tropical storms also tend to be more easily forgotten than the higher-order storms, but they can play an equally important role as the unsung heros and/or easily forgotten goats of Florida’s water cycle: bringing large doses of replenishing rains and/or alternatively causing our waterways to overflow the bucket.

Looking back in Florida hurricane history, June 8th marks the 41st anniversary of the earliest hurricane-strength storm to make landfall in Florida (and the continental US for that matter) over the past 110 year’s of record keeping. Hurricane Alma reached maximum strength of 130 mph in the Gulf of Mexico after passing between Key West and the Dry Tortugas, but weakened to a 90 mph category 1 storm when it made landfall in Apalachee Bay near Tallahassee on June 9th. Ironically, the heaviest onslaught of rain from Alma was sustained in our very own Gold Coast (Miami) — presumably from the storms outer bands as it passed between the Keys and Dry Torgugas — even though Alma’s official landfall was all the way up where the panhandle and peninsula meet. Alma’s rains contributed to around 20 inches of rain falling June 1996 for both Miami-Dade and the not-yet-established Big Cypress National Preserve. That 20 inches of June rain ties the prodigious June rainfall Big Cypress National Preserve more recently received in 2005. District-wide, an abundant 13 inches of rain fell in June 1966. (In comparison, 14 inches fell District-wide in June 2005). Hopefully that bodes well for this year’s June rain totals. But that’s just wishful thinking.

Three other hurricane-strength storms made a “June” landfall in Florida over the past 110 years of record-keeping: a category 1 at Cape Sable in 1908, a category 1 on Cedar Key in 1945, and Hurricane Agnes at Port St Joe in 1972. On a personal note, I was two and a half years old when Agnes later passed over Harford County, Maryland, from which I still have vivid memories of taking safe refuge from its high winds in the basement of a power-less house with my mother, father, and older brother. That was my first, but not last, hurricane memory. For the record, my brother was perhaps unfairly put on mop-up duty to sponge up flooding in the basement (along with my father). Suffice it to say, its the oldest siblings who tend to bare an unusually early burden of responsibility, whether it unfair or not.

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