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Drizzle fails to put dent in drought

Not enough rain falls to lift a burning ban or fill the aquifer, but it does help somewhat with the threat of brush fires.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2001


Residents might feel a little water-logged after two days of rain, but experts say the downpours need to keep falling for another few weeks to make a difference.

"We need many more days like this," said Robyn Hanke, a communications specialist with the Southwest Water Management District. "It's really just a small drop in the bucket. It's deceiving. You see the rain and you think we must be getting so much, but you lose a lot to runoff, and only a small amount makes it into the aquifer. We need many, many, many more days like this to help us."

A little more than an inch of rain fell around Brooksville on Sunday through 4 p.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast for Tuesday called for scattered showers and maybe a thunderstorm, but not the steady rain seen the past two days, said meteorologist Barry Goldsmith.

Hanke noted that the area was already under a rainfall defict at the end of 2000. The lack of rain this year makes it worse.

The northern region for the district, which includes Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Lake, Marion and Levy counties, received 36.72 inches last year. That's down from the annual average of 53.98 inches, Hanke said.

So far this year, the region received 2.98 inches of rain for January and February, down from the average of 5.88 inches for those two months, she said.

From March 1 through Sunday, the region received 2.18 inches. The region's normal amount for all of March is 3.62 inches.

"So if you look at the deficit for the last year and add on, we are pretty far behind," Hanke said.

photo
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Senior Softball League player J.R. Rodriguez, 63, wait for the rain to stop Monday at a game in Veterans Memorial Park in Spring Hill.
Despite the recent rain, the county's position on the the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, a rating for an area's surface dryness, climbed to 579 as of Sunday from 539 on March 4. On the index, 800 represents extreme drought, and zero signifies full saturation.

While the recent rainfall isn't enough to lift a state and county burning ban or to quench the drought, it helps slightly with the threat of brush fires.

"It certainly is well received on our end," said Mike Nickerson, director of the Hernando County Fire Rescue District.

"Certainly every day it rains, it gets that much better. Things are getting greener. Obviously, that's a big risk, when you have brown grass, which burns easier than green grass."

But residents should not let down their guard, he said, because the threat of a brush fire could return once the rains dry up.

"The risk will go down if it rains like this a couple times a week," he said. "We have to look at the larger picture."

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