One water cycle, many seasonal shifts

Florida’s flawed seasons
And why the water cycle works better

Why chose the water cycle …

Over the seasons for tracking the year?


Don’t get me wrong: The four seasons are great. And let’s also not forget, officially they are celestially defined by the position of the earth’s tilt as it rotates around the sun even. That being said, we tend to think of them meteorologically the most, or in other words, in terms of the weather.

That’s where the seasons and the calendar year for that matter fail us in Florida. For one, the meteorological seasons are skewed quite significantly from the normal continental norms. Summer-like weather lasts for six months, not three. And when fall weather will arrive is anyone’s guess. As for winter the season, it’s more accurately defined by a spattering of days. And spring? I’m not really sure other than the air is drier but it can get quite hot.

swamp cross section
Swamp’s cycle of flood and drought

Using January as the start of the year in Florida is also a complete fail. (Talk about getting the New Year off on the wrong start!) Why? January is smack dab in the middle of Florida’s dry season. How can we start a new year when the season still has another 4-5 months on the books? That’s where the water year comes in handy. It starts in May when the water table bottoms out and the wet season is about to begin.

So the big solution calls for a two-pronged approach: We replace the water cycle with the seasons and aligning our new annual clock with May, not January, as the start of the new year. And here’s the twist: we don’t have to drop the seasons and calendar year completely. We keep them in the mix, too. It’s not about replacing the old regime completely, it’s about custom crafting it to fit into Florida’s unique meteorologic mold.

The water year, wet season and dry season help us simplify the seasonal math.

Go to Cycles


Those winter days
And why we love to count them

Typically a three-month season,

In south Florida winter is counted in “days.”

Total days of winter in Naples, Florida (1970-present)

And by winter, I’m not talking snow, or even freezing temperatures for the reason if we used either as a metric winter wouldn’t exist in south Florida. Period, end of the story. But the truth is there are cooler days in south Florida that requires a scarf, a hat and sometimes even, if not a sweater — long sleeves — and possibly even long pants. Those are the days that daytime highs don’t rise above 70° F. By my count, and using air temperature data collected in Naples Florida as a guide, we had 11 such days. The long-term average is 18. The highest in recent memory was almost fifty (almost two months worth) in the winter of 2009. Could we still get another winter day? The odds are low for that, but what I can say is that fronts still break through in April. And that’s no joke.

Quandary of the double drop
When counting twice is okay

When does one rain drop …

Count as two?

Available on Apple Podcasts and Podbean

Maybe the better question to ask is when a rain drop only counts as half.  As good fortune would have it, the talking guitar from Firelight Radio podcast welcomes Bob from Go Hydrology into the house (and by “into the house” we me “at the campfire”) to discuss how hydrologists “deal with” rain drops that fall between the cracks of two seasons, with the million dollar question being this: Is it every appropriate (or scientifically accurate) to count a single rain drop twice. Find out the surprising answer in this illuminating episode of this “campfire-inspired and guitar-guaranteed” podcast.

animation switch short

Final tally is (almost) in
Counting continues until Halloween

South Florida has one wet season …

But the final tallies vary geographically.

Comparison of wet season rain by basin

For example, Lake Okeechobee usually gets the lowest amount of wet season rain, around 33 inches. Compare that to the Lower East Coast (Miami), Big Cypress and Southwest Coast that averages 43 inches of wet season rain. South Florida Wide, the number falls somewhere in between at around 38 inches. For water drop counting purposes, we compute wet season rain for the six-month period from the start of May to the end of October. Thus, it’s too early to call the final tally yet, but we are pretty close so it’s worth taking a look. As stands, we’re a little below the typical average. That could still yet change, as the clouds have until Halloween to get their final drops in.

BTW: October is better understood as a transition month between the wet and dry season, but we lump its entirety into the wet season rainfall tally for book keeping purposes, and to be consistent from year to year.

temperature check

Summer’s final stretch
And why fall isn't here yet

Celestial fall officially started …

on September 21st.

Comparison of night and day time temperatures in Naples, Florida to farther “Up North”

But in south Florida,

it’s still a waiting game before autumn starts to kick in.

Daytime highs are still in the high 80s and night time lows are still above 70 degrees.

According the book Florida Winter, fall in Florida officially commences with the onset on two consecutive nights that drop below 60 degrees. The animated map below shows that typically happens around the fourth month of November for south Florida.

Animation of when fall “typically” arrives to the Florida peninsula

If that seems like a long wait,

Not to worry: Fall doesn’t happen in one fell swoop.

We get plenty of signs along the way.

big weather

Heart of the storm season?
By some metrics it still hasn't begun

Hurricane season is two months old …

But it isn’t until August the heart of the season really begins.

Chart showing monthly
distribution of hurricanes that
made landfall in Florida

Over 75 percent of the storms that make landfall in Florida at hurricane strength occur in the three month span of August, September and October.

September leads the way with over 40 percent.

Never a matter of “if”
Swamp finally begins rebound

Well, it took a little longer than expected …

But we knew it was coming.

At the midpoint, June rain totals halfway

And we could feel it before we could see it.

I knew the morning of the big rain something was up.

The humidity was as thick as pea soup.

Water is still a foot below normal for mid June

And I say that in a good way.

I eat a bowl of soup most every day (although usually not pea soup) and equally enjoyed walking in the rain later that evening.

That storm followed me home!