tortoise and hare

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Tortoise and Hare of the Swamp
And why they both deserve participation trophies

South Florida’s water cycle …

Resembles the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.

Rainfall is fast and evaporation is slow, but over a year they usually balance out.

Think of rainfall is the Hare.

Summer rains are drenching and drainage of the swamp’s flat landscape poor. That causes water to rise rapidly and stay there through the summer and into early fall. But come mid October the wet season ends.

That’s when the Hare falls asleep and the dry season begins.

The Hare sprints ahead from late May into early fall

Enter the slow and steady Tortoise:

Evapotranspiration is slow and steady worker – some would say inexorable. As dry season weeks turn into months and the Tortoise marches on, by some point in the winter and definitely by spring pretty much all the water in the swamp is gone. Or in other words, drought …

And yes, wildfires, too.

Come spring the Tortoise catches up

But not so fast.

All it takes is one big rainstorm for the Hare to wake up, hurdle the Tortoise and sprint ahead out of sight, but not for long. Unlike the real fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, south Florida’s annual race called the water cycle has no beginning or end. Or in more scientific terms: The swamp is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depend on a goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire to maintain the health of the swamp mosaic.

And the winner is …

Moral of the story:

The Tortoise and Hare are both winners. Participation trophies for both!

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Tidbit: The south Florida rainy season lasts from mid May to mid October, or about 5 months.

Fable of the Spring Nosedive
Tricky multiple choice

Can you guess which fable best describes …

The annual spring nosedive of the water table?

Hydrograph of water depth in Mullet Slough. Can you see the nosedive?

(Please choose all that apply)

a. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

b. The tortoise and the hare

c. The lion and the mouse

d. The dog and his shadow

e. The ant and the grasshopper

f.  a, b and e only

Answer:

Tortoise pulls ahead

If the Hare is rainfall,

And the Tortoise is evapotranspiration …

The Tortoise has pulled ahead
in south Florida’s annual water
cycle race

Make it official:

The Tortoise has pulled ahead.

Absent the a good frontal shower or three (i.e. the Hare waking up) we are on track for a pretty good spring drought until the summer rains (or do I mean Hare?) return.

Tortoise and Hare

If south Florida’s water cycle was a fairy tale,

Which parable would it resemble best?

South Florida’s water cycle resembles the tortoise and hare

Imagine the Hare as rainfall:

It sprints off to an early lead all summer wet season long …

Racing swamp stage up into the pinelands for an early fall peak.

Or in other words – the dry season begins.

Now enters the Tortoise (evaporation).

That shell-covered competitor has been slowly inching along all summer long,


But it’s only when the hare falls asleep.

That the tortoise can finally catch up.