Summer holidays

The south Florida water year is traditionally divided into wet and dry halves, but the wet season also has a life cycle of its own.

I tend to think of it in terms of major holidays.

The wet season comes to life in the week or two running up to Memorial Day.

Dry skies of the spring give way to afternoon rise of cumulonimbus clouds. These storms are “convectional” … and tend to be spotty. This May was unusually wet as shown on the graph

Memorial Day to the July 4th generally marks the wet season’s rainiest period. Convectional showers become the norm, and are often enhanced by remnant upper atmospheric instability left over from the spring.

Independence day ushers in a lull in the wet season.

The upper atmosphere instability that stokes the rains of June (our rainiest month) is replaced by the more homogenous (and stable) winds of the easterlies blowing off the Bermuda High.

As the weeks progress, this momentary lull is offset by (1) a rising wave of tropical activity and (2) full maturation of the day-time sea breeze funneling in from the coast. These inland breezes collide mid peninsula to form mammoth front lines (that slowly drift west), better known as our “convergence” storms.

These are the apocalyptic storms that blot out the sun, and – for the old timers – serve as the sign that the wet season has finally arrived. You can set your watch to them … so the local folklore goes.

Next up is Labor Day.

Up on the continent, it signals the “end of summer.”

But here in south Florida it marks wet season’s final crescendo:

Water levels are peaking, tropical storms are threatening, and – if and where they fall (September and October account for a full 50 percent of hurricanes making landfall in Florida) – waters rise up to (and over) the brim.

A psychological component factors in as well:

The long humid summer creates a Florida equivalent of “cabin fever”. That, combined with rising anxiety of tropical storm tracking (and everything that goes with it – shuttering windows, stocking supplies, evacuation planning, 24-hour news coverage) rises the wet season to a feverish pitch.

Then comes Columbus Day.

The “convectional” and “convergence” storms shut down first, early in October. By Columbus Day – at long last – night time cooling arrives.

The nail in the coffin is also our first taste of the winter to come: a cold front.

Keep in mind that the tropics remain in play through November (Wilma hit Naples on October 24th), but storm intensity tends to weaken as the official season nears its close on November 30th.

In a nutshell, that’s our wet season by the summer holidays.

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