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Big rain, bigger smiles

Long overdue showers bring area relief.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 2001

For the first time in two months, the Tampa Bay area received substantial rainfall Friday, with up to 2 inches falling in some areas.

For the first time in two months, the Tampa Bay area received substantial rainfall Friday, with up to 2 inches falling in some areas.

"Everybody got at least a little bit," said National Weather Service meteorologist Russell Henes.

Waves of rain clouds swept through in the morning, afternoon and evening, bringing a quarter-inch to 2 inches of widespread rain.

Some areas had storm winds strong enough to snap power poles.

It was the region's first rainy day since the end of March, and it brought much-needed relief after a couple of bone-dry months -- the area's driest May and third-driest April in a century.

"It must be the rain dancer we just hired," said Terry McElroy of the Florida Agriculture Department. The weather slightly dampened the threat of wildfires, he said, but much more rain is needed.

It would be premature to say the summer storm season has arrived.

"You just can't jump on this one event and say the rainy season has started. I wish we could," Henes said. "We'll have to see what the next week brings."

The weekend is not expected to be as rainy as Friday. Forecasters predict about a 30 percent chance of showers each afternoon, with rain more likely in Florida's interior than along the coast.

Over the long term, expect an average amount of rain this summer.

"The cause of this three-year drought has been a persistent La Nina," said Florida's assistant state climatologist, David Zierden. La Nina, a cooling of Pacific Ocean waters near the equator, affects weather patterns worldwide and tends to create dry conditions in the U.S. Southeast.

"La Nina is finally over, so there's no indication that summer and fall will be drier or wetter than normal. Normal rainfall patterns would be our best guess."

Friday's rain brought a few hassles.

In Carrollwood, winds snapped the top off a 65-foot power pole Friday afternoon, forcing authorities to close a mile-long section of north Hillsborough County's busiest boulevard throughout the evening rush hour.

Thousands of vehicles were diverted from four-lane Fletcher Avenue, snaking through neighborhoods while power crews replaced the pole at Fletcher's intersection with Lake Magdalene Boulevard.

As many as 5,000 homes lost power for 10 to 15 minutes when the pole snapped at 1:33 p.m. A few hundred homes remained powerless through the afternoon.

"Everybody I've talked to said it must have been something like a straight wind or a small twister, like a microburst," said Ross Bannister, spokesman for Tampa Electric Co.

But the rain brought plenty of smiles.

In Pasco County, employees at P&R Sod Co. have been lighting what they dubbed a "rain candle" -- an offering to the gods, of sorts.

As sheets of rain fell around noon, even the grass seemed happy, said general manager John McGill.

"I can hear it hollering, "thank you, thank you."'

- Staff writers Bill Coats, Brady Dennis and Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report.

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