Water Cycle 101

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Intro - The Water Cycle Approach

The Water Cycle is your Passport into Nature

By Robert V. Sobczak

Are you fascinated by the weather ...

But find yourself continually in the dark about by the water cycle’s other half?

Bob explains the water cycle approach

If so, Go Hydrology may be for you. My journal aims to shine a light on the entire water wheel of south Florida using a concept I call the "water-cycle approach." Keep reading to explore more, or feel free to watch the video above.

water cycle

Warning: It's harder than it looks!

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.

But once your up and running it's a breeze

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?
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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.

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.

Recent Blog Posts

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Instructional kit
Perils of doing it yourself

You see them all the time in text books:

“Still life” diagrams of the water cycle.

As pretty as they look ….

The real trick is getting them to spin.

Easier said than done:

As multi-disciplinary as those diagrams appear (or proselytize) to be, they have a starchy and static and sort of abstract quality, as if they are stuck in time and their arrows stuck-in-place as if to say “yes, this is how the water cycle works, but don’t bother with the exact numbers or where all the water is now as we speak because it’s too complicated to know.” The truth is: Weather people tend to stick to the sky, and the water suppliers focus on what’s coming out of the ground, and home owners on their sprinkler heads, and gate keepers on their individual gates.

But what if we could unite the water cycle, each gear great and small …

And watch them them spin around in real time?

Water is all around us, and constantly in motion

Trust me,

It’s harder than it looks.

One wrong turn and all the water runs out.

How To: Ride the Water Cycle
The right and wrong way

Not to be mistaken …

With a giant bike in the sky.

Photo of bike taken at Oasis

The water cycle is more accurately represented …

By the water wheel below.

It receives water from the sky and sends it onto (and down into) the ground below (i.e. the aquifer).

Retired water wheel

Unlike the retired water wheel above,

The real hydrologic cycle is constantly in motion.

With no hope of retiring anytime soon.

water cycle

Major swamp milestone
Dry season marches on

The swamp dries out in degrees

During the winter and spring.

This chart chronicles the rise and fall of the water table over the past couple years

Gradual at first, come April and May that drying process can speed up. The end point? Total dryness. We’re not at that point yet. But the swamp has hit a notable threshold. According to our Preserve-wide hydrograph (see above), water is about to drop below the center of the domes.

Centers of cypress domes are still moist, but standing water is scarce

The cypress peat is still retaining moisture. And the gator holes and deep water refugia are still holding water.

But even those low spots will go dry as the dry season marches on.

Deeper gator holes are still holding water

Read more