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    Expect dry weather until July, forecasters say

    Once again, experts point to El Nino. This time, the weather phenomenon, which usually brings more storms to the state, isn't around.

    ©Associated Press
    December 15, 2001

    Above-normal rainfall in 2001 helped alleviate Florida's three-year drought, but warm, dry weather is expected back in early 2002, forecasters said Friday.

    Meteorologists have based the dry forecast mostly on the absence of El Nino, a phenomenon over the Pacific Ocean that pushes the jet stream over Florida and usually brings more storms to the state. The weather pattern isn't expected back until July.

    "For the past three years, it's been abnormally quiet when it comes to severe weather," said Jim Lushine, the warning coordination specialist for the National Weather Service in Miami. "We don't expect to have . . . severe weather in the winter and spring."

    Lushine said a big reason for the dry three years was La Nina, which produces the opposite effect of El Nino.

    He said the drought in Florida is over because of the generally increased rainfall last summer.

    But Tampa recorded rainfall that was more than 3 inches below normal, 39 inches, while Jacksonville's 48.63 inches was about an inch below normal. The aquifer in those areas remains below normal.

    Miami, on the other hand, enjoyed its most rain in six years. Lushine said 71.16 inches fell there from January through Wednesday, almost 20 inches more than the normal 54.8.

    Orlando's rainfall also was higher than normal, with 54.88 inches recorded. That city's average is 46.97.

    Tallahassee had an average year of rain, with 62.83 inches. The normal amount of rain also fell in Fort Myers, 52.6 inches.

    Twice-a-week lawn-watering restrictions remain in place for the 16 central and north Florida counties of the St. Johns River Water Management District. Southwest Florida eased its lawn watering restriction from one to two days a week, except in the Tampa Bay area.

    Water shortages have plagued parts of the state the past two years. Barry Goldsmith, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Tampa, said the blame shouldn't fall solely on the dry spells, but also on Florida's increasing demand for water.

    "You have to consider population buildup and how many people are using water," he said. "It has much less to do with climate than number of people. . . . We don't get that steady precipitation in the winter like in the Northeast and Midwest. If you add a population that doubles, you can get into some problems."

    Water use is forecast to increase about 30 percent from 7.2-billion gallons per day in 1995 to 9.3-billion in 2020 as more people move to the Sunshine State, already home to nearly 16-million people.

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    From the Times state desk