SEBRING - After seven years of below-average rainfall, of course Highlands County would have one year that exceeded historical expectations. What no one would have guessed was that April, May, June, July and September would all be soakers.
Since May 1, SFWMD rain gauges in Highlands County have recorded 39.62 inches at Lake Lotela, 40.67 inches in Sebring, 50.43 at Archbold, and 38.88 inches on Lake Istokpoga's southeast shore, where several low-lying homes have flooded.
Above-average rain fell across most of South Florida Water Management District in September, said Susan Sylvester, South Florida Water Management District's Water Control Operations Bureau chief. So far this rainy season, only August was below average, which slowed the rise of groundwater and lake levels.
"Water levels are at or near target levels for this time of year in many areas," said Sylvester said, but that's because water managers have operated the canal-and-lakes system in flood control mode while the hurricane season remains in peak months.
Although some fields and orchards have gotten too much rain, Ray Royce said Wednesday that farmers have benefitted, on the whole.
"It's hard to replace rain with irrigation," said Royce, executive director of Highlands County Citrus Growers Association and Heartland Agricultural Coalition.
"The guys I've talked to, canker has not been as bad as we feared due to the rainfall. The psyllids - the rainfall may affect the spraying with pesticides, but for the most part they've been able to work around that. Of course, good flush helps psyllids." Flush is new green leaves, a psyllid's main diet. However, Royce said, excessive rainfall has helped young fruit.
As for pastures, rain helps grass grow but excessive rainfall reduces nutritional values. "There have been some concerns from cattlemen about the forage," Royce said.
Row-crop farmers are concerned about fungal problems, Royce said, but so far row farmers and caladium growers have seen little root rot.
"In general, agriculture is okay," Royce said.
Last week, the aquifer in the south portion of Southwest Florida Water Management District - which includes Highlands County - was nearly a foot higher than the previous year. SWFWMD's statistics said the south region averaged 7 inches more than the north and central portions.
The south region, which includes all or portions of Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee, and Sarasota counties, received 49.80 inches of rain in nine months. The annual historic average is 45.68.
In 2004 and 2005, when five hurricanes zipped through, the south region of SWFWMD averaged 61 inches. The next two years, however, the south region averaged only 40.5 inches. From 2006-2012, the south region averaged more than 47 inches.
On average, South Florida's 21-week wet season begins around May 20 and ends around Oct. 13. Typically, about 66 percent of annual rains fall during that 40 percent of the year.
Although June is usually South Florida's wettest month, the wet season has three general phases:
Memorial Day weekend through July 4 weekend, which are typically the wettest six weeks of the year.
Early July through mid-August, which are hotter and often drier.
Late August through October, when tropical activity and cold fronts vary the rainfall.
Michael Doll, meteorologist for AccuWeather.com, predicted a strong cold front across the Mississippi Valley this weekend. "This will help pull the moisture from the Gulf of Mexico system northward and enhance rainfall from the Gulf coast to the Southeast. This can create heavy rainfall and a risk of flooding for parts of the Deep South on Sunday." An AccuWeather.com map showed Highlands County in the rainfall's path.
The latest outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center is an increased likelihood of above-normal rainfall for October and about equal chances of normal precipitation for the last three months of the year.
However, that depends on Jerry. "Tropical Storm Jerry is nearly stationary over the central Atlantic," SFWMD said. "Jerry will struggle to maintain itself in a hostile environment, and this system poses no threat to any land mass."
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. "But 80 percent of tropical storms and hurricanes developing during August, September, and October," SFWMD said. "In a typical year, 12 named storms develop and six of these become hurricanes. Since 1989, some portion of the district has been impacted by one or more named storms three out of four seasons, one or more hurricanes every five seasons, and one or more major hurricane every eight seasons."