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Drought creating severely dry conditions statewide

How dry we are.

The entire state of Florida was classified as suffering from drought conditions, as of last week. The rain that fell over the weekend did little to help, according to Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service.

What's needed is more — a lot more.

"A tropical storm without the wind that gives us a nice 10 inches of rain around the state would do wonders," Karels said.

The drought now plaguing Florida has been growing since July 2010, said Karels, whose agency keeps tabs on the state's wildfire potential. Some parts of the state have fallen so far below their normal average rainfall that the deficit has hit 30 inches, he said.

Normally Florida's dry season runs from October to May, said state meteorologist Amy Godsey. But without any heavy rainfall from tropical storms last year, the dry season started earlier, she said, and even the winter rainfall was below average, thanks to the phenomenon known as La Niña, which is driven by colder than usual Pacific Ocean temperatures.

In the 16 counties covered by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, this has been the 11th driest winter since records started being kept in 1915.

As a result of all that dry weather, Karels said, "you can hardly find a swamp around the state that's wet, and a lot of the lakes have gone dry." His agency has been tracking fires in Polk and Brevard counties and in the Panhandle, he said, and some counties have already banned all burning.

Swiftmud's board has imposed once-a-week watering restrictions on Hernando and Citrus counties and other areas north of Tampa Bay, and will likely extend those same restrictions to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties soon.

No relief is likely in the next month, according to Godsey. But La Niña has weakened, she said, and once June begins — bringing with it the traditional start of Florida's hurricane season — the rains are likely to return.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8530.

Drought creating severely dry conditions statewide 04/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 28, 2012 11:59pm]

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