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Despite rainfall, normal water levels still far off

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001


All the rain of last weekend had a noticeable change to the drought maps, but don't be fooled. The North Suncoast still needs rain.

Lots.

And the doubtful chance of sprinkles this weekend isn't going to cut it.

Looking at the Keetch-Byram Drought Index maps from Jan. 29, when the rains started, to Tuesday's update, the change is clear. Before the rain, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties were among the driest in the state. Now they're in the middle of the pack.

"The rain was helpful," said Michael Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "But a few inches of rain is not going to do much.

"We're not anticipating getting out of this any time soon. It's going to take some kind of El Nino kind of event."

Over the past two years, Molligan said Tuesday, the Tampa Bay area is more than 2 feet below its historical averages for rainfall. He said water managers were trying to survive the dry season and praying for a "very rainy, rainy season."

The effect of just a little rain, however, was easy to see.

Parts of Hernando County received up to 4 inches of rain during the weekend, which sent it from the driest county in the state's 67 to 44th.

Pasco went from the seventh driest to the 20th, with a swath along the southern border remaining extremely dry. Citrus dropped from eighth to 47th driest.

However, on a scale where 800 is the most dry, the average drought score for each county was 504 for Citrus, 513 for Hernando and 580 for Pasco. All are still well into the parched side of the scale.

Ironically, Pasco and Hernando counties both enacted burn bans just days before the rains fell. Pasco fire officials Tuesday showed county commissioners how the drought maps had changed, but asked them to extend their ban. The commission agreed.

State officials warned in mid January that with the cold temperatures Florida has endured this winter, coupled with the dry weather, the fire season typical to March and April will be especially dangerous this year.

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