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It's raining blessings

Some are hit by floods, but the water supply is rising, rivers and lakes are recovering, plants are growing and wildfires are just a memory.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 26, 2002

Some are hit by floods, but the water supply is rising, rivers and lakes are recovering, plants are growing and wildfires are just a memory.

Gloomy as it may seem, the persistent gray curtain of clouds hanging over the Tampa Bay area is having a profound and much-needed impact.

The steady rain has made rivers rise and plants grow. It has all but eliminated the threat of wildfires. And it has helped replenish our water supply, still low from a recent four-year drought.

As huge brush fires burn the dry West, Florida is soaking.

"A plume of deep tropical moisture has been coming right over the Florida peninsula," said National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Noah. "There's not a lot of wind, so slow-moving storms are staying over an area for a long time, dropping more rain."

The Tampa Bay area has gotten a good drenching over the past week, with roughly 4 inches of rain in St. Petersburg, 6 inches in Tampa and a whopping 8 inches in Land O'Lakes. Tampa International Airport has had 10 inches of rain this month, more than double the norm for the month of June.

Heavy rains Monday in Tampa raised the water in the Hillsborough River by 8.5 inches. The Alafia River rose an eye-opening 2.26 feet. Both rivers are still far from flooding.

With the danger of wildfires severely diminished, Florida has shipped 60 firefighters out West to fight forest fires in Arizona and Utah.

But the area still needs more freshwater.

"We haven't fully recovered from the drought," said Mike Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Its 16 area counties have gotten 20 percent more rain than normal this June.

The water level in the underground aquifer is "in the low part of the normal range," Molligan said. He said local lakes are 6 feet below normal, and many streams and rivers -- particularly the Withlacoochee River -- have been somewhat slow to rebound.

"The lakes have not been in good shape," Molligan said. "It takes longer to refill them."

What's more, the rainy weather is about to ease up.

An upper-level trough of low pressure has been parked over Louisiana, drawing tropical moisture over Florida. But that low-pressure system is moving north, reducing its influence over our weather.

"After (today), we'll be back to a normal summertime pattern," said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Dougherty. "You can still expect thunderstorms, mainly in the afternoons and evenings. But the mornings will be nice again, and we'll lose some of this persistent cloud cover we've had."

Forecasters say the odds of rain should gradually taper off: a 70 percent chance today, a 60 percent chance Thursday and Friday, 50 percent this weekend, and 40 percent each day next week.

-- Times staff writers Jamie Jones, Ryan Meehan and Craig Pittman contributed to this report.

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