Seasons of the swamp
And where we're at now

Meteorologically the swamp has two seasons …

The wet season (May to mid October) and the dry season (November into May.)

Not your typical four seasons, but four nonetheless

But terrestrially the swamp sees four seasons on the ground.

1.Soaking in season. The early part of May is usually the crunchiest time of the year to walk through the swamp: water is absent except in the deepest pools. By month’s end the wet season will have started, followed by June – the rainiest month of the year; yet only rarely do waters peak this early. Late May through June is usually a “soaking in” season for the preserve.

2. Sheetflow season. The onset of summer, lasting into early fall, coincides with an extensive but ephemeral sheet of shallow flowing water in the swamp. Its flowing aspect is achieved when waters rise to the base of the hydric pinelands (i.e., a depth of 20 inches in the pond apple swamps) and higher. The depth, spatial extent and flow rate of sheetflow typically peak between late August and early October.

3. Hydrologic Interregnum. Starting with the demise of sheetflow in mid fall and lasting through winter is the hydrologic interregnum. This is an approximate five month period in which “wet season” water is still present on the ground, but atmospherically the “dry season” has set in, thus initiating the slow demise of the swamp’s expansive sheet of surface water. The duration of surface water in any one spot is largely habitat dependant, but may also be sustained by winter rains, particularly during El Niño years. Pinelands go dry first, followed by marl prairies which eventually leads to a retreat of waters into the tall cypress and pond apple swamp.

4. Spring drought. The swamp ebbs to its low water mark in April and May due to the cumulative effect of months with little rain and increasing rates of evapotranspiration (rising temperatures, expanding hours of daylight, and plant transpiration). During this period, surface water is practically absent from the swamp other than smallish (typically less than an acre) and isolated pools called dry season refugia.

The above chart shows the relation of south Florida’s two meteorologic seasons, i.e. wet and dry, with the landscape hydrology of the swamp.  The typical duration of flooding in major swamp habitats is also shown.

What season are we currently in?

Answer: Winter dry season (meteorologically) but still high up in “hydrologic interregnum” season (terrestrially).

The “spring drydown” season will be delayed and most likely short, if at all — but I wouldn’t rule out one yet.

New Year Reprieve
Resolutions officially on hold

This just in:

The new year is officially canceled.

Animation comparing water and calendar years

Well, actually — canceled is a bad way to phrase it. What I mean is that 2022 is already 8 months old. And when I say 2022, I’m talking the water year, not the calendar year. Most people (so I am told — and this truly horrified me) go by the calendar year. I’m not here to tell you that’s a completely flawed approach, but if you’re a hydrologist or trying to get in touch with the water cycle, May 1st not January 1st marks the start of the new year. The reason? May 1st marks the start of south Florida’s 6-month wet season (May-Oct) followed by its 6-month dry season from November through April. January 1st is pretty insignificant in comparison other than being the start of the third month of the dry season.

Or in other words, forget your resolutions and live it up. South Florida’s true new year is still 4 months away.


Happy new year!

Usually when I see “fireworks,”

I think Fourth of July.

But that’s because I hail from The Continent.

Down here on the south Peninsula, New Year’s Eve is the big night. For one it gets dark earlier, but the bigger reason is the cool (yet warm by Northern standards) weather plus the low chance of rain, i.e. it’s our meteorologic dry season.

Have a happy, healthy and hydrologic 2022!


Outdoor classroom
And why this plateau isn't flat

Harford County is awfully hilly

for being on a plateau.

Rapid run on Big Gunpowder River
Yazoo tributary on Big Gunpowder
Dry meander scar on Little Gunpowder
Logjam from a collapsed undercut bank
Small tributary feeding into main stem

I never really thought about that as a kid. But looking back, we were always taught that the Piedmont Plateau was the region’s dominant physiographic landform. That would imply a certain amount of flatness that the region noticeably lacks. Even the rivers and creeks are hilly, rapidly ascending in grade. The hills are most noticeably from the river beds. Except they are not hills: they are the top of the plateau!


Hydrologic resolutions
Or is it better phrased as a responsibility?

Does anybody make new year’s resolutions anymore?

One of mine this year is to drink less water.

The alligator does not drink up the water hole he lives in

Okay, I phrased that wrong: I meant use less water. The reason: By the end of the winter dry season, South Florida usually doesn’t have much to spare. Of course that usually doesn’t happen until spring — and specifically April and May — when the cypress domes and strands go completely dry. And I know what you’re thinking: Is there really a connection between how much was I use in town and the abundance or sparsity of water in the swamp? Increasingly, with the town moving east into the hinterlands that used to be the swamp, I would say if not a one to one drop exchange, the two are more intermingled than we tend to appreciate. Or maybe my point is this: When it comes to Big Water solutions to benefit humans, we usually don’t blink an eye. Well, I’m here to tell you the gators and all the other animals need there water, too. Hundreds of miles of canals and levees later, we built it (for us) and broke it (for them), therefore we own it and owe it to our region to get the water right.

My other resolution is to play the guitar more.


Happy Winter Solstice
Days get longer from here

The darkest hour …

Is just before the dawn.

Animated diagram of the winter and summer solstice

And especially if that pre-dawn period occurs on December 20th. Not to worry: Daylight hours start to get longer starting on the 21st. The reason: The earth rotates around the sun on a 23.4° tilt. That’s what gives us earthlings our four seasons, or if you live in south Florida, it’s two (i.e. the south Florida exception). To be technically correct, seasons are celestially-defined. Thus, even though they are subtle, south Florida is part of the Northern Hemisphere club — it has four seasons, too.

As for the increase in daylight hours, just don’t expect it to happen overnight. And just to put the current condition in perspective: today’s paltry supply of sunlight is exactly balanced out by a bounty of sunlit (it’s longest day) on the southern side of the globe. At high noon today, the sun will be shining down directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, but for only one day, before starting its 6-month journey north to the Tropic of Cancer on June 21st.

animation 101

Puddle paradise
The case for walking through them

Usually, if you can …

You walk around a puddle.

Puddles are trending (according to this hydrologist)

Not in the Big Cypress Swamp down in south Florida. The reason? The puddles are too big to avoid. As for waders, they don’t work. I remember one trip when I decided to where them. My pants became soaking wet rom sweat to the point that I regretted putting them on at all. The truth is — socks eventually dry, and boots do, too. More about my field boots: They don’t last long. Water is the enemy to leather my local cobbler has told me. As if I had a choice. The only way to get from Point A to Point B in the swamp is to embrace the puddle and go straight in. Socks never feel good getting wet at first. The good news once they get wet a who new world opens up. Walking through a puddle in the Big Cypress is one of the great (if also misunderstood) joys of life.


“Warm” Thanksgiving Wishes
And why the company matters most

You know it’s cold in south Florida …

When daytime highs don’t rise above 70° F.

The chart above shows Naples FL’s
daytime highs and nighttime lows
forecast for this Thanksgiving
and Thanksgivings past.

By that metric, South Florida was graced with three (3) consecutive Thanksgiving Days of winter-like (i.e. at or below 70°F) cool for the Thanksgivings of 2012, 2013 and 2014.  The past seven Thanksgivings have been warmer by comparison. The good news: this year’s won’t be too warm.  A daytime high of 80 sounds perfect to me. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone everywhere and remember it’s not about the weather — it’s about the company!


Shift of the sun dial
And how the swamp responds

In case you forgot:

The swamp sun dial got set back on hour last night.

Swamp sun dial gets set back

The reason? In a nutshell it has something to do with keeping daylight hours aligned with normal working hours. Initially, turning the clocks back gives us more daylight in the morning. But that too will diminish as we approach the shortest day of the year on December 21st.

To be honest, for me the one hour change is much too abrupt. My strategy has always been to shift the clock back 15 minutes on Friday night, then another half hour on Saturday night, then take Sunday night off to let those forty five minutes soak in (in the same spirit as does a high-altitude mountain climber make base camp at 20,000 ft to acclimate to the low oxygen air) before proceeding with correcting for the final remaining 15 minutes on Monday night. And yes, if I were king for a day, I would grant everyone a week off of work to fully adjust.

As far as the natural world goes: Has anyone else noticed how instantaneously the cypress trees respond to the sudden one hour loss of light? As you are aware, it’s the decrease in light, not the onset of cold, that causes their needles to fall. The one hour drop off causes them to turn from green to gray virtually overnight.

The end of daylight saving has a startling effect on the trees

Not even the sun is immune! Sunsets over the gulf are much more frequent once daylight savings ends. Trust me, I’ve been at Naples Beach until close to 8 pm on many a summer day and never saw it set. (Presumably it never did.) Compare that to the winter where the sun sets – and beautifully I might add  like clockwork during the same time as in the summer it would be bright as could be day.

Sunsets are also more frequent
once Daylight Savings ends (as far as I can tell).

And last but not least: Is it me or does everyone suddenly grow taller (as judged by my shadow on the ground.) Who would have thought a swamp dial could be so strong?


Tiny oceans?
What lies under the crust

Conventional wisdom says …

That most of Earth’s water is in the oceans.

I added the left column to this classic diagrams after reading The Story of the Earth by Robert M. Hazen

But did you know the mantle and core contain 80 ocean worth’s of water. Or in other words, all the water in all the oceans (and yes, I’m talking all seven seas) is a mere 1/80th of the water contained underneath the crust. What’s all that water doing down there? It’s hydrating the mantle and helping it move, which in turns drives the slow-motion movement of plate tectonics on the crust. By slow motion I mean even slower than your nails grow, or at a rate that makes a snail seem like a rocket ship.

The hydrated inner earth also helps its metallic core to spin. That both points your compass needle north and forms an electromagnetic force field that protects the planet (and all living things) from solar radiation. Neither Mars nor Venus have similar force fields, nor do they have plate tectonics.

Thank water for making both possible on earth.

Watch out, Rattlesnake!
Or should it be the other way around?

Society would have you believe …

We should fear rattlesnakes.

Watch Out, Rattlesnake!

And yes, there’s been a time or two I’ve thought twice about where I put my foot in the swamp. The last thing you want is a snake bite, and especially a venomous one. Unlike a gator that will usually move out of your way when you approach, moccasins have a reputation for standing their ground. Thus if you’re not paying attention it’s easy to walk in harm’s way. So the saying goes: It’s usually the second in line that gets bit – the first in line raising the snakes ire, and the second person getting the strike. And if you do get bit, there’s no question about it: you’ll need to get medical care, and fast.

Watch Out, Vehicle Tire!

But if prevention is the best medicine, the best policy for both you and the snakes are to slow down, especially when driving on the road. Much more common than skin-piercing bits are snakes getting run over by a tire on the road.

Take-home lesson: Please hike and drive slow in the swamp, both for your own safety and the safety of the snakes.