SEBRING — Is South Florida getting enough rain since the rainy season started? Yes, in spots.
The six weeks from Memorial Day (May 26) to Independence Day weekend are typically the wettest of the year.
The southern region of Southwest Florida Water Management District got a good start: 16.17 inches of rain were received from January to May; the historic average is 13.92. Northern Highlands County is in Swiftmud’s south region, which also includes Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
And in the first 18 days of June, Swiftmud’s southern region received another 4.58 inches; 7.19 inches is the monthly average.
The aquifer — layers of rock and sand that hold underground water — was also up. The level was at 5.97 feet last week. Last year, the first wet year after seven below-normal rainfall years, the aquifer level measured 4.16 feet.
It’s drier in Swiftmud’s north district: the aquifer was down to 2.41 feet, and measured only 1.08 feet last year. The north district includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Levy, Marion and Sumter counties, where as little as 3 inches of rain have been received in the past 30 days, according to SFWMD rain graphics. Some gauges just 100 miles south have measured 16 inches.
South Highlands County is in South Florida Water Management District.
Surface water — lakes, canals and conservation areas, along with groundwater aquifers, are rising throughout the region, said Susan Sylvester, chief of water control operations.
The past week has been even better, said Gabe Margasak, SFWMD spokesman. The rainy season is well underway at Lake Istokpoga, which has received five inches in seven days.
The Lower Kissimmee Basin — which includes Istokpoga and southern Highlands County — has received 9.41 inches since the rainy season started, SFWMD statistics showed.
“The lake is at regulation level,” Margasak said. Throughout SFWMD, “Most of the lake levels are rising now. We haven’t had any reports of flooding in the neighborhoods.”
Last year, several Highlands County homes were flooded near Lake Istokpoga. This year, Istokpoga’s floodgates are open and water is being moved southeast to Lake Okeechobee.
Florida’s southwest coast has been drier because June winds have been out of the west, which pushes the moist daily sea breeze and resulting thunderstorms to the east, Margasak said. “In July, those winds typically shift to steer storms towards the west coast.”
Highlands County’s lakes are in fine shape, said Mike McMillian, a natural resources specialist who helps manage lakes.
“All the lakes are on the rise, with the exception of Lake June. They are also at their peak,” he said.
Highlands County typically receives 8 to 9 inches of rain in June, and every municipality is on target, McMillian said, with the exception of Avon Park.
Last year, Avon Park got too little rain.
“This year, they’re killing it,” McMillian said. “They’ve already hit the mark for June.”
Sometimes, lakes can suffer from too much heat and rain. This year, McMillian said, only one minor fish kill and no algae blooms have been reported.
Even so, said Susanna Martinez Tarokh, the Southwest Florida Water Management District urges year-round water conservation. “Water levels may rise and fall, but our water resources remain limited. The district encourages efficient, non-wasteful uses of water to sustain our high quality of life.”
For information about conserving water, visit watermatters.org.
South Florida’s Wet Season
Rainfall historically averages 52 inches.
The 21-week wet season begins May 20 and ends Oct. 13.
One-third of annual rains fall in the other 31 weeks.
The wet season has three phases:
The wettest weeks, Memorial Day through July 4.
The hotter and drier weeks, early July through mid-August.
The tropical storm and cold front weeks, late August through October.
Source: South Florida Water Management District