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Gloomy weather has silver lining

Sunday's day-long drizzle may have been the bad news, but the good news is the cooler and drier air it ushered in.

A cold front moved through the Panhandle on Sunday night, heralding today's brisk, fall-like weather.

The high today is expected to be in the mid-70s, with the humidity at less than 50 percent.

"This is what brings people back from Michigan and New York," said meteorologist Ron Humble at the National Weather Service station in Ruskin.

The cooler weather we're experiencing today is right on schedule. The rainy season generally ends around the end of September. Any precipitation we experience now tends to be a precursor to a cold front, meteorologists say.

"We start getting away from the conditions that give summer-type thunderstorms, with cold fronts moving through every five to 10 days," Humble said.

A slow warming trend is expected, with highs getting back into the 80s within the next few days, but no rain is expected again until at least Thursday, forecasters say.

It's unlikely, however, that the mercury will get back up into the 90s until next summer. And it also is unlikely that the bay area will experience, anytime soon, the kind of rainfall needed to keep the aquifer at optimum levels. That's because the daily pattern of afternoon showers and storms is critical to the replenishment of underground water supplies depleted during the winter.

Groundwater levels have been depressed because of rainfall amounts in the past four years that have been among the lowest in the 77 years records have been kept, officials with the Southwest Florida Water Management District say.

In all, in the past four years Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have received only about 75 percent of their annual average rainfall amounts, officials said.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.