PINELLAS PARK — Lucky lived up to her name.
The mut likely tumbled down the steep embankment of a ditch off 66th Street N and 84th Avenue N and into the rain-swollen waters below. Lucky then swam to the debris gathered around a bridge pylon and waited for help, trapped on her own island.
No one knows how long she was stuck down there. Police got the call at about 8 a.m. Thursday, and a firefighter climbed down to rescue her.
“Lucky’s a good girl, she’s a sweet girl,” Pinellas Park police Sgt. Lonnie Lancto said. “But we have some questions about her care.”
As the Tampa Bay region deals with non-stop rain and a flood watch that will likely be extended into the weekend, Lucky’s plight is a good reminder that there’s more to dealing with flood conditions than remembering not to drive through standing water.
“It’s not just cars, it’s pets,” Lancto said. “Animals need to be cared for and treated in any kind of inclement weather.”
The bay area has had plenty of that, and the end is not yet in sight.
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The National Weather Service says the region has seen above-average rainfall for the month and year. The kicked-up convection is pushing rivers and canals to the limit and saturating soil to the point where it can’t absorb any more water. After weeks of heightened activity, the rain has nowhere else to go.
Flood-prone areas like St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle and Shore Acres have been hit especially hard given some of the rain comes in right around high tide.
“We always get storms every afternoon during the summer, but this amount of rain is definitely unusual,” meteorologist Stephen Schiveley said. “We put the flood watch out not just because we are seeing a decent amount of rain for the next couple of days. We’ve been seeing rain for the last couple of weeks now.”
Tampa International Airport has reported 4.6 inches of rain so far in August. The average to this date in the month is 3.7. Some areas, however, have reported upwards of 5 inches in a single day.
Meanwhile, county and city governments are bracing for more rain, and the flooding that could follow, by firing up pumping stations and portable pumps, monitoring flood-prone areas and clearing out debris that might interfere with stormwater flows.
“Our system is already at capacity,” said Jean Duncan, Tampa’s director of transportation and stormwater services. “Our system is already at capacity because of all the rain we’ve already had. We’ve been going out proactively and pumping down all of our ponds as low as we can go.”
The rain doesn’t look like it’ll let up until late in the weekend or early next week, said Schiveley. The last few weeks of rain have come mostly due to a change in the normal wind pattern. This week it’s been intensified by a stalled frontal boundary near the Florida-Georgia line.
Typically, a ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere sits above the Tampa Bay area or just to the north, providing variable or easterly winds. That pattern is what pushes the sea breeze inland and brings the typical summertime weather pattern of afternoon showers and storms.
That ridge has moved south to the Florida Keys, putting the bay area at the mercy of a southwesterly flow that’s kicking up rounds of showers and storms in the Gulf of Mexico and washing them onshore throughout the day like waves from the atmosphere.
“Most years we’ll get that flow for a few days here and there, but we don’t typically have it for this length of time,” Schiveley said.
The stalled boundary, which normally pushes a band of wet weather in front of it, has only made the saturation and rain activity worse.
The front is likely to dissipate by Saturday and the front hopefully will lift by Sunday or Monday, Schiveley said. Sunday could be a transition period, but if the rain holds up like it did yesterday, flood watches could be extended.
The above-average August rainfall is par for the course in 2019. The average rainfall recorded at Tampa International by this point in the year is 29.7 inches. Right now, it’s at 41.5 inches.
“We are way ahead in the year,” Schiveley said. “Until we lose this front, until we lose this southwest flow, nothing is really going to change.”