Game of miles

Rainfall is a game of inches and miles in South Florida

Rain Or Shine Report for September 17
Ike wasn’t much of a news maker in south Florida.

But if it’s a game of inches in terms of rainfall, it’s a game of miles when it comes to hurricane tracks. Had Ike tracked just 10 miles or so further north, we could have gotten a good drenching, peninsula wide … including the Lake.

Had that happened, that could have been the proverbial straw (or “The Hare”) that broke the camel’s back.

But like I always like to say: hindsight is fifty-fifty

I know what you are thinking, he means twenty-twenty.

No, I actually mean fifty-fifty. It’s the oldest trick in the handbook of historic thinking: the art of batting around a near miss – presenting it in all the sensationalized exclamations and imagined details of what would have happened if it actually occurred.

In that way, a good near miss can feed into the imagination more than the actuality itself.

But let’s also be truthful – and thankful – for missing a storm. Hearts throughout hurricane country go out to the communities and people who took the brutal brunt of Ike’s fury.

But also lessons learned all around: Always be safe and evacuate … especially when it’s mandatory.

Ike dropped a 2 inches of rain across southwest Florida. But peninsula wide, the feeder bands were largely out of range.

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That doesn’t change the fact that we are still in “peak water” season.

Sure, water levels may have reached their crest, and in many areas even dropped a notch or two, … but lets not confuse the cypress forest from the trees: water levels are still “up there” when looked at in the full spectrum of water cycle seasons.

And it won’t be going anywhere fast anytime soon.

That’s just the opposite of how we see the numbers behaving in the financials. The Dow Jones tends to inch itself up at a slow and steady tick during a Bull Market, but in a single stroke of bad news (and we’ve gotten a lot of that lately), a Bear Market can wipe out months of gains in a blink of an eye.

Compare that The Tortoise and The Hare of the water cycle.

It’s the Hare (rainfall) that can run water levels up their peak in blink of an eye, but the Tortoise (evaporation, gravity) can only drop it down inch by inch, taking months what the Hare did in one day.

Look no further than this year’s Lake stage saga as proof. The Tortoise worked for the better part of 3 years to slowly drop the Lake, inch by inch, below the 11 ft mark, where it stayed for a record-setting 511 days. Then along comes The Hare, which in a few short days, returned the Lake 4 ft higher to its 2005 level.

To be sure, there are some similarities between market forces and hydrologic forces: both are outside our control, and doesn’t it seem that south Florida has been the epicenter of financial and hydrologic roller coaster in recent years?

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Inflows into the Lake (S65E) are still up, but unlike the first 3 weeks following Fay, there is now a fairly even balance between inflows and outflows. About half of those outflows are from evaporation, the other half is from structural discharges through Moore Haven and Port Mayaca.

Discharges to both coasts are still low compared to 2003, 2004, and 2005. That was the good news about the Lake being so low. But the Lake can’t do that again, not this wet season.

The Lake’s current level of 15 ft is about the same elevation as mid September of 2005. Back in 2005, Lake stage crested at 18 ft msl in early November before commencing on its 2 ½ year drop into the drought of 2007 and 2008.
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Down in Loxahatchee, water is almost 2 ft deep in the central slough. That’s deep, but not off the charts. Regulatory stage – at around 16.8 ft above sea level – is right around the average late September level.

Compare that to downstream Water Conservation Area 2 where central slough water depths are approaching 3 ft deep. That is “off the charts.” It hasn’t been that deep there in September since the epic 1995 wet season.

The S11s have been open and flowing since the start of July, and are currently discharging at 4,000 cfs. That’s still lower than what’s flowing into the Lake from the Kissimmee, but it is high by S11 standards.

That steady inflow from the S11s has made for a very wet and deep Water Conservation Area 3. Sloughs in Northeast WCA 3 are over 3.5 ft deep. That’s also the wettest it’s been in northeast WCA 3 this early in September going way back to the epic 1995 wet season.

Unlike the Lake that has momentarily crested, regulatory stage in Water Conservation Area 3A seems to still be rising. Currently it is right around 11.5 ft mean sea level. Compare that to mid September of 2005 when regulatory stage had already been perched up at that level for a full 2 months, or to the epic 1995 season when regulatory stage in 3A went above 12 ft for several months.

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My point is that water levels are high – and the Lake’s jump was a hydrologic one-of-a-kind that will go down in the record books – but by many metrics, wet seasons of recent memory (1994, 1995, 1999, 2005) have been wetter (and wetter longer) than our current condition.

Proof of that can be seen down in Everglades National Park. The S12s are discharging water into the Park at a combined rate of around 3,000 cfs, and already – year to date – around 250,000 acre feet have been delivered through the S12s into the Park. That’s high compared to last year and the year before, but compared to 2005’s 500,000 acre feet through mid September and 1995’s 1,250,000 acre feet through mid September, this year is more a return to the average.

That’s affirmed by my observation that slough depths in Shark River Slough (P33) aren’t off the charts. They are just at the normal peak wet season height. Sloughs in Shark River Slough are currently holding just under 2 feet of water. That puts the wetting front up around the perimeter of the tree islands.

That makes the tree islands the only dry ground in town.

Or in this case, the only dry ground in the Park.

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