Did summer just end?
Just when it was getting interesting

It was shaping up to be a subpar summer …

And then September kicked into high gear.

The swamp finally peaks, but for how long?

Back to back weeks pushed the swamp to its annual peak.

Then came the recent front of dry air?

Overnight the rain machine shut down.

Or is there still time for it to rev back up?

A flooded marl prairie with periphyton

I‘m never one to complain about the start of fall, but seriously – summer was finally starting to get interesting. It’s good to see the swamp’s sheet of water spreading out.

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.

fall

Signs of fall
Fall arrives in many ways, just not temperatures

Signs of fall in the swamp are subtle,

But they are there if you know where to look.

Early October:
Resurrection fern shrinks
to shriveled state indicating
less rain
Late October:
Dwarf cypress prairie
become needle bare indicating
less daylight hours
Early November:
Cold water seeps into boots
indicating lower air temperatures
Late November:
The cypress-pine
swamp mosaic really
starts to “pop”

Can you think of others?

product movies

Flying south
Loop around Loop Road

There’s always lots to see …

On a flight over Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve.

We flew clockwise around Loop Road

On this trip south of Tamiami Trail, we see a swamp mirror (reflecting the clouds), the Pinecrest Chain of Hammocks, Gum Slough, Loop Road, Sweetwater Strand and Gator Hook Strand and Trail.

rain charts

Summer fizzle?
Or will more rain showers save the day?

The good news:

We still have 3-4 weeks of wet season to go.

About 43 inches of rain fall in Big Cypress National Preserve every summer, as tabulated for the 6-month period from May to October.

By wet season,

I’m talking meteorologically, and specifically the regular pattern of afternoon rain showers.

Yes, we may get tropical weather in October and November (think Wilma and Eta), and yes the swamp will remain soggy through the calendar year and winter cold months.

But by mid October the rain machine usually shuts down.

Transition between the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp, looking west

By my counting, we still have some filling up to do.

Pine high ground

High and dry in the pines
September is (usually) peak season in the swamp

You know we’ve finally hit the heart of the wet season …

When the pinelands are shallowly flooded.

Bar chart showing hydroperiod (i.e. duration of flooding) in the pines of Big Cypress National Preserve over the past 30 years.

Over the course of an average year, we can usually count on the hydric pines going under for a good 4 months of the summer/fall period and the higher-perched mesic pines getting inundated for about a month.

And usually September is reliably our peak water season.

Except this year.

The water table is inching up but still below the pine trunks.

Hydric pines during wetter times

That makes this year drier (i.e. less wet) than the drought summer of 2000

animation 101

Go Hydrology 101
An introduction to the blog

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Go Hydrology is all about the “water-cycle approach”

Introduction

“Are you fascinated by the weather but find yourself continually in the dark about by the water cycle’s other half?

Go Hydrology shines a light on the entire water wheel of south Florida using a concept I call the water-cycle approach.

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Shifts in the water cycle can be as obvious (or as subtle) as the seasonal shifts … which if you are a northerner are hard to see in south Florida.

What is the Water Cycle Approach?

South Florida is unlike any other part of America.  It doesn’t have winter the noun – i.e. northerners escape winter (the noun) by wintering (the verb) down in south Florida.  Meanwhile, when they leave to go back up north in spring, they are greeted by continental spring floods just at the same time that south Florida is descending into the complete opposite state – a seasonal (and sometimes deep) spring drought.  But drought in south Florida?  How is that even possible in the same place that gets a whopping 55 inches of annual rain?  To confuse matters even worse, the clouds that bring that rain actually move in the wrong direction (… long story).

Suffice it to say, south Florida’s unique seasonal pattern is contradictory by normal northern standards.  And even for the folks that understand the seasonal water fluctuations have trouble keeping up: south Florida’s seasons don’t let the water cycle stay in any one spot for long – some would even call it hyperactive.  Half the year is as wet as it can get (except when it isn’t) followed by an another half of desert-like drought.

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Water deepens as trees grow taller in the swamp

Arguable no place is more tied to the hip with its water than south Florida – to the point that you might assume there was a hydrology page in all the local newspapers. Instead, water seems to be startlingly under-reported in the local news.  For example,

  • Newspapers report on the Everglades, but it’s usually policy-oriented articles that don’t viscerally connect the reader with current conditions in the swamp. Meanwhile, television provides viewers with the local weather, but broadcasts are invariable limited to what’s happening up in the sky: how water is affecting watersheds on the ground is almost completely left out.
  • Newspapers and television are five-day forecast centric: the historical, seasonal, statistical, regional or Florida-wide context of drought and rainfall are usually lacking.  Yes, it’s wet or dry, but by how much, which area is driest, how does that compare historically, and what does that mean for the ecosystem?
  • Even at the most basic level, readers overwhelmingly find themselves out of touch with south Florida’s seasons.  When does fall begin?  What counts as a winter day?  When does the wet season finally fill its cup? When does a normal winter drought turn into severe drought?

The net effect is that readers put down the newspaper being no more informed about trends in the region’s vital (yet perplexing) water resources or shifts in the peninsula’s (fascinating but glanced over) subtropical climate than when they picked it up.  This is a noteworthy missed opportunity for both the newspaper and readers alike …

And precisely where Go Hydrology! steps in.

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The water will draw you in

Goals of Go Hydrology!

Go Hydrology! is your guide into the inner realm of south Florida’s ferocious fly-wheel of hydrologic fury.  It is aimed to resonate with the water management community and simultaneously make sense to the lay person fishermen, kayaker, or recreationalist, too.  The water cycle is the great fountain in the sky and on and under the ground that binds us together as a community here in south Florida.  It more than anything forms our common bond with the environment and each other.  

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We all love the water

Go Hydrology! helps translates vital water information (fresh out of the oven as it comes in) and …

  • Chronicles major (and minor) milestones of south Florida’s water cycle,
  • Illuminates and simplifies the complex inner-workings of south Florida’s major wetlands, watersheds and water ways – including the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, Everglades, Big Cypress, and more,
  • Celebrates south Florida’s seasonal rules-of-thumbs and trends, including adding water cycle twists to traditional holiday lore, i.e. the meteorologic meaning of Memorial and Columbus Days, why Labor Day is south Florida’s rendition of Groundhog Day and why the hydrologic New Year doesn’t start on January 1st,
  • Compares and contrasts seasonal water patterns of the south peninsula to the panhandle and the Continental US,  
  • Showcases rainfall and drought levels across every part of south Florida and Florida-wide (at daily, weekly, monthly, wet and dry season, annual and decadal scales),
  • And more.
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Getting in touch with water is an adventure

Go Hydrology! is your guide to the inner workings of the south Florida’s constantly spinning water cycle.  Oh, and don’t forget if you haven’t already to sign up for the Weekly Wave Newsletter. We deliver it straight to your e-mail inbox about once per week.

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hydrologic holidays

Florida Groundhog Day
Does the groundhog's shadow portend early fall?

South Florida doesn’t have a winter, therefore by definition it can’t have a Groundhog Day?

Or is it just hiding in plain sight instead?

Groundhog and cloud
Is that a cloud,
or a Giant Groundhog?

Groundhog Day on the continent is a celebration that celestial winter is half way done. By contrast in south Florida we are content to never let winter never end.

Our summer on the other hand is another story.

What continental transplant (me included) hasn’t at some point during Florida’s unending summer craved a little dose of fall air, especially come Labor Day when friends and relatives from “up state” and “off peninsula” are just beginning to rejoice in the first of many rounds of crisp autumnal air. Meanwhile down on the south peninsula we are left to sweat out another six weeks of Old Man Summer. It usually isn’t until Mid October that finally (and at long last) a cold front blasts through.

In my mind that’s what makes Labor Day South Florida’s Groundhog Day equivalent.

Will Summer end soon? Answer: See above

Only south Florida’s groundhog doesn’t emerge from ground to look for his shadow: It appears as giant cloud (see photo above) …

Casting a shadow on us instead.

Mid-summer milestone
Why pond apples never fall far from the tree

Hearing the ker-plunk of a pond apple …

Into the center of a dome is a rite of passage in the swamp.

Holding a pond apple in Big Cypress National Preserve
Pond apples are found in the center of cypress domes

It also indicates two things:

Summer is advancing (thus it falling) and water is deep (thus the ker-plunk).

And how do you measure the worth of a pond apple?

Floating pond apple in the center of a cypress dome
As seen looking towards the dome’s lighted center

What happens next after the ker-plunk?

The pond apple floats!

And starts to drift.

In the direction of sheet flow (until a log snags on a log).

Pond apples rarely drift far from the tree they fell.