RIDGE MANOR — This might be what passes for good news in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby and her record-setting rains:
The Withlacoochee River doesn't look like it will pose a big threat to its surrounding communities and low-lying areas in Hernando and Pasco counties. At least not anytime soon.
After initial predictions that the Withlacoochee would exceed flood stage by about 1 to 2 feet, forecasters have downgraded those estimates, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
"We should see a flood rise through the rest of the week," said meteorologist Eric Oglesby. "But we're not projecting the type of numbers we were seeing initially."
The reason? Prior to the weekend rain, the river and its primary source, the Green Swamp, were extremely dry.
"Computer models don't work well when we're coming from a drought situation," Oglesby said.
At the Trilby observation station, the height of the river decreased Tuesday after peaking just under 5 feet. Flood stage at that location is 12 feet.
Despite the decrease, the level is forecast to jump to about 11 feet by Saturday morning. It could still increase after that. Oglesby said he would not be surprised if the river hit flood stage in five to seven days.
At Croom, the river was forecast to reach 8.5 feet on Saturday, just below the flood threshold of 9 feet.
Many residents on Tuesday said they were not afraid of any flooding threats.
"When the water gets up, then we'll get concerned," said Eddie Crain, 68.
Hernando County emergency officials had said Tuesday that flooding on the Withlacoochee was one of their greatest concerns. If the river flooded, it would likely close roads and threaten homes, turning some into islands.
"As an emergency manager, it doesn't matter if there's one home or 1,000, I'm going to be concerned," said Hernando emergency management director Cecilia Patella.
The threat of river flooding was enough to scare Krystal Stemen, who lives in a mobile home near the riverbank south of Ridge Manor.
She knows the river can reach her rented home, her family and friends inside.
"That's what scares me," the 23-year-old said. "I don't want that to happen again."
Stemen said she won't wait around if the water does start to approach her home.
Her plan is simple: Get her and her three kids out.
She hopes it won't come to that. She hopes her birthday on Saturday won't be ruined by a flooded house.
The same goes for her friend, Amanda Curry, also 23, who is sharing the home.
After Curry saw how fast the water could rise after Sunday's heavy rains, she plans to get her family out of there if the water gets anywhere close.
"I hear that it floods really bad," she said.
She said she was worried about her three young children and the hazards of floodwaters — the snakes, water moccasins in particular.
Danny Valentine can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or [email protected]