Water Year 2018 (May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018)
Water Year 2018 was a year of wet and dry extremes: featuring a “record rainy” summer wet season and, in a repeat of the previous year and a “below average” dry season as follows — a whopping 55 inches of rain falling across south Florida during the six-month (May through October) summer wet season (the long-term average is 38 inches) and 8 inches falling in the six month (November through April) winter dry season that followed, for an annual total of 64 inches.
Despite the bountiful summer rains, a sweltering May actually started Water Year 2018 off on a rather dry note with a continuation and deepening of the drought from the previous water. Reminiscent of the saying “all droughts end in flood,” an epic three-day onslaught of rain in early June ushered in an “instant” wet season across all of south Florida, and set the stage for the record-rainy wet season to come. Abundant tropical moisture and regular afternoon storms combined with the exclamation points of Tropical Storm Emily, Hurricane Irma, and Tropical Storm Philippe to produce a wet season that went down in the history books with rarely seen events, including water sheet flowing over a few miles of Turner River and Wagonwheel Roads after the June deluge and a brief overtopping the Tamiami Trail between Forty and Fifty Mile Bend in the days following Irma for the first time since 1995.
The “instant” wet season stayed well above average for most areas of the ecosystem from June into the January, peaking for much of the summer 1-2 feet above normal levels, causing even high-ground tree islands in the Everglades and pine flatwoods of the Big Cypress to submerge for multiple months.
A series of emergency measures were taken to alleviate the unusual bounty of summer water, some of which had negative connotations ― such as mandatory releases from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries to protect the integrity of the lakes perimeter levee as it is being repaired ― whereas other were pursed on a positive Everglades Restoration note. Most notable in that regard were three efforts focused on spreading the water out: (1) to the East, water managers sent water through the new one mile bridge into Everglades National Park’s Northeast Shark River at an unprecedented scale, (2) to the West, the newly-constructed Merritt Pump Station went into action to spread water into downstream Picayune Strand, and (3) in the Center, a series of pumps was utilized for a second straight year in an to send water west across the L-28 levee into Big Cypress National Preserve.
The meteorologic pendulum swung to the dry side of the spectrum for the winter, producing both good and bad results. On the positive side, the paucity of winter rains (combined with a high summer climb) set the stage for in a remarkably steady and prolonged water recession that sparked a frenzy of foraging and nesting activity among wading birds across the Everglades. Super colonies of wading birds were observed for the first time in Everglades National Park in decades. Wood stork rookeries were reported in Big Cypress National Preserve for the first time since the 1990s. On the negative side, the Big Cypress half of the ecosystem was plagued by unusually long wildfire season as result of the lack of timely winter rains. Fires in Picayune and Big Cypress National Preserve generated plume clouds of smoke across the region throughout March, April and into May.