Water Year 2020

Water Year 2020 (May 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020)

WY 2020 started with a normal onset of wet season rains only to be derailed into a drier than normal condition due to a record-low rainfall in September, largely as a result of several large tropical systems that disrupted the summer pattern. Similar to the previous water year, WY 2020 dry season started earlier than normal as a result (Figure 1). However, differing from WY 2019, a series of winter storms failed to materialize. Cold fronts proved too infrequent and lacked sufficient moisture to slow the steady decline of the water table. The virtual lack of any rainfall for the entirety of March sealed the region’s descent into a deep and prolonged drought. Wildfires erupted in the Big Cypress and Everglades in April and May and proved hard to contain due to the loss of surface and shallow ground water from the region’s normally wet soils. The wildfires threatened and, in some cases, significantly impacted, large areas of the ecosystem as well as threatened and endangered species found exclusively in both deep slough and upland habitats. 

The Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp are flood and fire-adapted ecosystems in which every square inch of flora and fauna depend on a regular return interval and dosage of both flood and fire. In WY 2020, a few months proved pivotal in tilting the region in favor of drought and the wildfires that ensued.

Of interest, both WYs 2019 and 2020, as judged by their annual rainfall of 52 and 48 inches, would appear at first glance to have fallen squarely within the normal 45 to 58 inches of rainfall window.  Yet, a closer look reveals a two-year period that was plagued by a continual threat and eventual demise into an ecologically damaging and financially costly drought cycle. 

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