Marco sprinkles state with rain

Published Oct. 12, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

For a storm that closed the Sunshine Skyway, turned out the lights on 25,000 people and blew down everything from roofs to broadcast antennas, Floridians may well fondly remember Tropical Storm Marco for bringing them a little rain. In fact, before being downgraded Thursday afternoon to a tropical depression, Marco could have left even more rain and few people would have complained.

"We're not getting any terrific amount of rain out of this storm, but anything we do get is wonderful," said Granville Kinsman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), the state agency that has monitored two years of significant rainfall declines.

And as rainfall goes, so goes the region's supply of drinking water: down.

Tropical storm warnings from the Florida Keys to Tarpon Springs were canceled Thursday afternoon, just a day after Marco had quickly grown to almost hurricane strength. The storm spent Wednesday night and most of Thursday wobbling northward from one Gulf Coast community to another, grabbing attention but doing relatively little harm before dissipating about 20 miles south of Cedar Key.

From North Florida through Georgia and into North and South Carolina, a dying cold front that once steered Marco along Florida's Gulf Coast collided with moist Gulf air to produce torrential rains, flooding and washed-out roads and dams. The rain, as much as 10 inches in 24 hours, was blamed for five deaths in the Carolinas.

A tornado that owed its origin to Marco destroyed a mobile home and knocked down trees, fences and power lines in Crystal River on Thursday, but the greatest damage - and the highest wind speed _ came in Manatee County. Schools and beaches were closed there and local officials estimate that Marco inflicted $1-million in property losses.

Power lines, billboards, trees, traffic lights and roofs all fell before Marco as sustained winds of 65 mph and gusts to 70 mph were recorded in the area. At least 40 families were driven from their homes by the storm damage, officials said, and a police radio tower collapsed.

"It looks like we got the brunt of it," said Bob Schoenleber, Manatee County public information officer. At the height of the storm, between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., Marco dumped about five inches of rain on portions of the county.

Removing toppled trees from county property will cost about $250,000, officials said, while flooding and erosion damage was assessed at $250,000. Traffic-light replacement will cost another $80,000.

"It (costs) will probably go higher," Schoenleber said. "But it doesn't look like there will be enough damage to seek federal funds or declare an emergency."

Closed bridge

One of Manatee's two main links to the north, the Sunshine Skyway, was one of Marco's first casualties when the Florida Highway Patrol closed the big bridge about 5:45 a.m. after the bridge's wind gauge recorded gusts of about 70 mph and steady winds of 60 mph at the storm's height.

The Skyway was reopened early Thursday afternoon, but not before it ruined the days of a number of residents on either side of the bridge.

Even a Manatee County firefighter who commutes from Seminole was prohibited from crossing the bridge Thursday morning.

"There's no way for me to get down there," said firefighter Jerry Hearin. "It's too dangerous with the winds. ... I spoke with personnel down there and they're getting hit hard."

He said he tried several other routes but was forced back because of flooding.

Stockbroker Ron Helton, a Tierra Verde resident, was also downcast. He was unable to get to his office on Siesta Key, he said, a turn of events that could well prove disastrous in his line of work.

"If it were a hurricane, I could understand," Helton said. "It's a tropical storm. I've got to be there to take care of my clients and not have to turn them over to someone else."

Rainy days

Kinsman, manager of Swiftmud's hydrologic data section, said the biggest rainfalls seem to have come in the southern part of the agency's 16-county region, from Manatee County south to Lee County.

At Bradenton's reservoir, for example, 5 inches of rain were recorded. A few miles to the south, at Sarasota-Bradenton Airport, almost 4} inches fell.

By and large, the district's northern tier, from Tampa Bay north, didn't fare as well. Totals for Wednesday and Thursday generally ranged from 1 to 2{ inches of rainfall.

"I hope that it helps us at least meet our (statistical) mean for the month, and it looks like it might," Kinsman said, adding that the district-wide mean rainfall for October stands at just a shade over 3 inches.

That's not much for a region that normally receives about 53 inches of rain annually. But 1990 is only three-quarters complete, Florida's dry season is well under way and more than 10 inches of rainfall are needed to have even an average year.

Earning and learning

Tropical Storm Marco was little more than an inconvenience for many West Central Florida residents, but there were some snags.

Gov. Bob Martinez ordered state government offices and universities closed in the Tampa Bay area before the morning commute began, so hundreds of people had to quickly adjust their daily routine.

At the same time, only public schools in Manatee and Sarasota counties closed. All other school systems around Tampa Bay and to the north remained open.

Many parents said they could find no logic in releasing college students while retaining youngsters.

Bob and Alice Hudson knew of Marco's meager strength, so they readied themselves Thursday morning at Pass-a-Grille Beach for the center of the storm to pass over.

They pulled up some plastic chairs and sat facing the Gulf and waited, ready for nature's show to begin.

But after a two-hour wait, they realized the storm wasn't going to hit them or the beach with any particular punch.

The day's lesson for Bob Hudson: "God takes care of fools, drunks and Pass-a-Grille."

_ Times staff writers Marty Rosen, Mark Journey, Patty Curtin, Jim Ross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.