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A teasing rain sprinkles parched bay area

Rain that blew through the area Monday helped, even if just a little. But more is needed to allay fire concerns and boost water supplies.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Kevin White]
Court reporter Patti Marshall crosses Jefferson Street on her way to the Hernando County Government Center during a brief downpour Monday in Brooksville.

The rain that swept through the Tampa Bay area Monday did little to relieve the drought that is straining lakes, streams and underground water levels.

Temperatures should return to near 80 today as the cool front and upper-level disturbance moves out of the area.

"We'll return to our mostly sunny, drier weather again," said Paul Close, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

A slight chance of thundershowers is expected Thursday and Friday, but no substantial rain is in the forecast.

Monday's rain helped, even temporarily easing concerns about wildfires. But more is needed.

"It's going to take a lot more than just a few showers here and there to bring the levels up to where they need to be," said Michael Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud.

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From midnight Sunday to 5 p.m. Monday at Tampa International Airport, 0.28 inches of rain fell. Some communities immediately north of Tampa Bay got less rain, while places such as Fort Myers recorded nearly an inch.

"Rainfall is unpredictable in Florida," Molligan said. "You either get too much or too little of it."

Consider:

• In the Central Florida area that comprises Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, rainfall is 10 inches below normal. This month, 0.12 inches of rain fell.

"The historic average in March is 3.62," Molligan said.

• The Hillsborough River, which reached its all-time record low in 1994, is nearing another record.

Forecasters and water officials say the Tampa Bay area needs a long, steady rain, especially when 60 percent or more of the rain never makes it to the aquifer and is instead evaporated or taken in by plants.

Days like Monday help, but they are not an immediate cure.

"And that's one of the difficulties," Molligan said. "So much of our water is dependent on rainfall, and rainfall is not dependable."

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