Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Confused by all this rain? Relax. We have answers.

In the Bible, Noah dealt with 40 days and nights of rain by building an ark. Tuesday will mark 20 days of liquid sunshine for Tampa Bay. Here are some questions and answers about our long, soggy ordeal and what it means.

How much rain has fallen?

From July 24 to midday Monday, the National Weather Service gauge in Tarpon Springs measured about 18.54 inches, while the Tampa International Airport gauge recorded about 14.59 inches.

Is that a record?

The Tarpon Springs total ranks fourth all time for a 10-day span in this area. The record is 20.33 inches for the 10-day period ending July 9, 1909.

What's normal?

The Tampa airport gauge usually records about 15 inches for July and August combined.

Should we build an ark?

Probably not. WTSP 10Weather meteorologists say the rain should start to let up today.

When will the Anclote River crest?

It's close. Monday afternoon, it reached 23.1 feet at the Elfers gauge in Pasco County, more than 3 feet above flood stage. According to the National Weather Service, it will crest at 26.1 feet this afternoon. The record is 27.7 feet in 1945.

Is rain falling all over Florida or just on Tampa Bay?

It's not just us. Palm Beach County was under a tornado watch for a while Monday, and Gainesville residents now refer to their town as "Rainsville." However, the Tampa Bay area has experienced the most flooding.

If the rain stops, is there any reason to run a lawn sprinkler this week?

No. Your lawn is saturated. Unless you're cultivating mushrooms, let it dry out a bit.

Is it a good idea to frolic in the floodwaters?

The Florida Department of Health says no. "Floodwaters may contain fecal material, associated bacteria and viruses," said an alert issued Monday. Avoid wading in the water if you have open sores or cuts, and if you have to get in there anyway, wash with soap and water right away.

What's the most outlandish sight produced by the flooding?

It might be a video of a catfish swimming up a Tampa driveway that was tweeted Monday by Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

Did El Niño cause all this?

No. But Florida's state climatologist, David Zierden, says that because of El Niño we should expect a lot of rain this winter too.

Is sea level rise making the flooding worse?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn suggested this possibility, but that's not a factor yet, according to Gary Mitch­um, associate dean of the University of South Florida's college of marine oceanography. Sea levels haven't risen enough yet to cause this amount of flooding. But over the next 30 years or so, he said, sea levels are expected to rise enough that this kind of flooding will become the norm rather than something unusual. A better question, Mitchum said, is whether climate change is responsible for this unusually heavy rainfall.

Is climate change responsible for this unusually heavy rainfall?

Maybe, Mitchum said. Not enough research has been done on the effects of climate change on weather patterns, but increased rainfall in tropical and semi-tropical areas like Florida is a possibility.

We've heard of rain dances to make it rain. Have people ever tried to create dances or rituals for stopping the rain?

Between 1560 and 1660, Europe experienced torrential rains that caused floods, famines and rampant disease. Each village had a person designated to go ring the church bell whenever a storm approached, in the belief that would chase the storm away. Instead it got a lot of bell ringers killed by lightning, according to Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History.

What's all this rain done to our aquifer?

The aquifer that supplies most of our drinking water is doing quite nicely thanks to this big refill. Some wells monitored by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, in places such as Moon Lake in Pasco County and on Tarpon Road in Pinellas County, registered record high water levels.

Does that mean our springs are flowing well for now?

Yes, particularly the springs that feed the Chassahowitzka, Weeki Wachee and Rainbow rivers. But once the rains stop, the spring flow will taper back down again.

How has this affected Tampa Bay Water's reservoir?

The 15.5-billion gallon C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir near Lithia in Hillsborough County is nearly full, thanks to all the rain — and the lowered demand for watering lawns and washing cars.

Does heavy rain and flooding wipe out Florida wildlife that humans don't like?

No. Fire ants, for instance, can link together to form floating balls or rafts (as seen in the movie Ant-Man), and rattlesnakes and other venomous reptiles know how to seek higher ground. The puddles left behind will be prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Are there any interesting words from other countries for the persistent drizzle we've seen?

In Scotland, people refer to a steady drizzle as a "smirr." When the clouds open up and dump cold buckets of water on your head, they call that a "skoosh."

Times staff writers Claire McNeill, Zachary T. Sampson and Steve Contorno contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

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