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RAIN CAN MAKE US FORGET WE'RE STILL IN A DROUGHT

A rainy weekend leaves behind a soggy mess, but it doesn't put much of a dent in the lingering problem.

We needed the rain. But we didn't want the mess.

The soggy weekend may have helped chip away at the area's drought, but a host of other problems have cropped up in our lives.

Rivers are topping their flood stages and threatening homes. Yards are either soaked and muddy, or overgrown with weeds. Mosquitoes are breeding like crazy. Hairdos are ruined. Everything is leaking.

This is the flip side to the dry weather we groaned about all spring.

And it's good business for some. Grass and weeds seem to grow before our eyes, keeping landscaping crews busy. Some area roofers walked in Monday morning to voice mail full of messages from homeowners with leaky roofs.

"We had quite a few calls on Saturday," said Connie McCullers of McCullers Roofing in Largo. "And today (Monday morning) we had about 13 calls from people with new leaks."

According to Bay News 9's weather station, Tampa and St. Petersburg each had three consecutive days of rain over the weekend. Saturday was the wettest, with St. Petersburg getting 3.06 inches of rain that day. Tampa got 1.38 inches Saturday, and Clearwater got 1.07. For the entire weekend, the bay area averaged about 2.5 inches.

"That's a lot of rain," Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez said. "But we needed it."

Even though it has felt like an endless string of soggy days lately, it's not raining as much as you think it is.

We were officially dry for at least four days prior in Tampa and almost a week in St. Petersburg. And we still have about 4 more inches to go before we reach the average 6.9-inch rainfall in September.

The forecast for the rest of this week calls for a 50 to 60 percent chance of rain throughout the Tampa Bay area, though meteorologists expect considerably less rainfall than we saw over the weekend.

The National Weather Service issued river flood warnings Sunday and Monday for Little Manatee River in Wimauma and the Manatee River in Myakka Head. Both rivers were above flood stage Monday and could rise even after the rain stops, Marquez said.

But despite all this water, remember:

We're still in the middle of a dry spell.

"That (rain over the weekend) really just helped us catch up for the month of September," said Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "Certainly for the public, it seems like, 'Wow, we got so much rainfall.' But it's really been average."

When you combine the rainfall the Tampa Bay area has had over the last three years, we're still in a 20-inch deficit. The average annual rainfall is 50 to 52 inches; we've had about 41 inches so far this year, and the summer rainy season typically ends this month.

We'll need to get about five inches of rain above the average each month for the rest of the year to dig the area out of its drought, which began in 2005.

At the end of this month, by the way, Swiftmud will make a decision on whether to extend the Tampa Bay area's Phase III water restrictions, which strictly limit how often we can water our lawns, wash our cars and pressure-wash.

In fact, Felix said, this would be a good opportunity to send out an important reminder from Swiftmud.

Turn off your lawn irrigations systems, she said. You're not going to need them this week.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

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