Raindrops don't stop the sizzle


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000

The atmospheric pump is primed. The rainy season has begun.

But there's a lot of catching up to do.

Florida is still dry and, in almost 300 places, on fire.

Rainfall over the weekend and on Monday was welcome, but not nearly enough to ease the drought or put out the state's troublesome wildfires.

In Central Florida, officials measured as little as 0.07 of an inch in North Pinellas, to as much as 1.2 inches in the Green Swamp area near Lakeland. Elsewhere in the state, "we got the same -- from a trace to an inch," said Division of Forestry spokesman Jim Harrell.

"We need summer afternoons like I remember as a boy growing up in this state," he said. "It seemed like it rained every afternoon."

"This is not the end of the drought," agreed Michael Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly called Swiftmud. "We have a long way to go for that."

Harrell should get some of what he asked for this week.

"There's lots of moisture in the vicinity, and we're getting an easterly flow of air (from the Atlantic) moving against the sea breezes from the gulf," said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Sobien. "Afternoon thunderstorms are likely this week."

The rainy season brings with it the beginning of the hurricane season, and "tropical waves" of disturbed air have begun their annual westward march from the African coast across the Atlantic.

In fact, said Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart, the waves seem especially vigorous for the time of year.

"Some of them are already rotating," he said. "It's usually July before we start to see that. It's not such a good sign."

Perhaps not. But, while no one hopes for a hurricane, tropical storms are classic drought-busters.

The number of tropical waves moving across the Atlantic also seems high for the time of year, said Stewart. "We usually see about four a week, now we're seeing one almost every day," he said. "On the other hand, the closer they are together, the less likely they are to develop (into storms)."

Meanwhile, stubborn fires continued to burn around the state. Rain inhibits new fires only as long brush and trees stay wet, said forestry spokeswoman Christine Kintner, "and the sun dries them out again very quickly."

Late Monday afternoon, firefighters were "mopping up" -- attempting to extinguish -- 65 fires around the state. They were monitoring 232 others that were not threatening people or property, Farrell said.

"During the wildfires of 1998 we had a little rain, and it helped, and so a lot of our firefighters went back to their regular duties. Within a week, the fires were back.

"We can't get complacent this time. We don't have an end to the fire season yet."

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