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Grab an umbrella _ and a coat too

Published Sep. 28, 2005

Rain and chilly air is expected this week, but officials, worried about fireworks, say dry conditions will persist.

This year's New Year's survival kit, unlike the candles and canned goods stockpiled for Y2K, should be relatively simple:

An umbrella and warm clothes.

Today should bring plenty of rain, with showers or thunderstorms likely throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Then it will start getting chilly.

The weekend should be cloudy but not rainy, with daytime temperatures in the 50s and nighttime temperatures dropping into the 30s.

"Both the highs and lows will be decreasing as we go through the weekend," said Richard Rude, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. Monday should be noticeably warmer.

Although today might get pretty wet, remember that Florida's drought is far from over.

This has been one of the Tampa Bay area's driest years on record, and brush fires have recently started flaring up.

Officials also are worried about fireworks. They're on sale all over the place, and a number of public fireworks displays are planned for New Year's Eve.

If fireworks land in dry brush, said Tampa fire Capt. Bill Wade, "the sparks can fan into a very large flame."

This past weekend, all it took was sparks from the exhaust of an all-terrain vehicle to ignite a 2,600-acre Polk County swamp fire.

"Any kind of ignition source at this point is a danger, not just fireworks," said Jim Brenner of the Florida Division of Forestry. "The biggest problem we have right now is people burning yard debris."

Today might bring a half-inch to an inch of rain.

"It should continue throughout the day and should end between 8 p.m. and midnight or so," Rude said.

We can use it. The drought index is at 524 in Pinellas County and 624 in the driest local county, Hernando. The index ranges from 0 (soaked conditions) to 800 (desert aridity).

Before today, the Tampa Bay area had received only 29{ inches of rain this year, making it barely wetter than 1956, the area's driest year on record.