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Rain hampers some plans, but mostly just what the doctor ordered for thirsty Florida

The storms that have already delayed class field trips, ruined Little League games and left brides anxiously watching each weather update are expected to continue for the rest of the week.

And for most of the state, especially the thirsty Tampa Bay region, that's a good thing.

It's not the end of the three-year drought. But the rains are providing a major boost for the dwindling aquifer, not to mention all the lakes and rivers that had hit record lows. And they have put a damper on the wildfires that have already consumed hundreds of thousands of acres around the state.

"This is really what the doctor ordered for most of Florida," Ben Nelson, Florida's state meteorologist, said Tuesday.

The one exception: Northeast Florida, where some areas have already seen more than 11 inches of rain and 50 mph gusts of wind. The combination has produced minor flooding and beach erosion, both likely to be exacerbated by the continued pounding of wind and water, Nelson said.

Meteorologists say the Tampa Bay region can expect showers and thunderstorms every day this week. The region could see 4 to 7 inches of rain fall through Saturday — enough to make Memorial Day weekend look like a good time to stay indoors with a good book or DVD, not to have a cookout or, worse, an outdoor wedding.

The 277-room Don CeSar Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach has five weddings booked and nearly a full house for the weekend, said general manager John Sparks. If the rain keeps up, some brides will have to have their beachside weddings indoors.

Normally May is the end of the dry season. "I've been here 13 years and I've never seen a May like this," said Mike Clay, chief meteorologist of Bay News 9. "This is an unusual weather event."

A slow-moving low-pressure system has soaked the state for nearly a week. Tampa received 1.26 inches of rain Monday, a record for that date. The old mark of 1.11 inches had stood since 1911.

That's not nearly enough to make up for the three years of drought the region has experienced, a time that left the Tampa Bay area short of the normal rainfall mark by 30 inches.

But it has helped alleviate the demand for water to sprinkle lawns, said Michelle Biddle Rapp of Tampa Bay Water, the regional utility.

From May 1 to May 12, before the rain started, regional demands were around 242 million gallons per day, she said. But since the rains began May 13 through Monday, the demand dropped to about 212 million gallons per day, she said.

Water managers were urging the residents of Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties to leave their sprinklers off for a week, since the rain has already supplied plenty of irrigation for their lawns.

The rainfall has also helped diminish the wildfire risk that rose throughout the drought.

"I wouldn't say it's over, but the rain has put a major dent in it," said Matt Weinell, fire resource manager for the Florida Division of Forestry.

Not everyone was thrilled about seeing wet stuff falling from the sky again, though.

The fifth-graders at Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School in St. Petersburg had planned to scream their lungs out on Busch Gardens' roller coasters Tuesday.

Instead, they sat silently in class, working their way through an nine-page math test. The trip had been postponed to Friday. Eleven-year-old Trey Walker said he'd much rather be riding Montu, his first and favorite coaster, than doing arithmetic.

Over at the Pinellas Park Pony League tournament, coaches and players sat in the dugout, glumly watching the drizzle. Monday's game had already been called.

But then the field had dried out and they planned to start the double-elimination tournament Tuesday — until the rain hit again about 4 p.m. There was talk about pushing the games back a week.

Not all sports were washed away by the downpour. Three hours of torrential rains, whipping winds and soaked socks didn't deter Ed Brownstein and Neal Schachtel from playing 18 holes at the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club on Tuesday.

The two stuck to their regular 9 a.m. tee time, despite the rain. There were a couple of water hazards that hadn't been there before, Schactel said, but the rain was just what the greens needed.

"Only real men golf in this weather," Brownstein said.

Tuesday's rainfall

Tampa0.25 inch

St. Petersburg0.22 inch

Brooksville0.71 inch

St. Leo0.59 inch

Source: National Weather Service

Rain hampers some plans, but mostly just what the doctor ordered for thirsty Florida 05/19/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 9:15am]

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