La Niña fuels Florida drought for second year

February 26, 2012
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The water level of the Wekiva River on Friday was the sixth-lowest for that date in records going back to the 1930s, according to preliminary government measurements.

The Silver River near Ocala and the Suwannee River near Lake City are at record lows, while the Peace River east of Sarasota is close to its lowest level on record.

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In all, it’s looking pretty droughty across Florida, as it was last year at this time, and weather forecasters and other experts don’t offer much hope for relief until this summer’s rainy season is well under way.

“I expect dry conditions through June, and then after that it’s a crapshoot,” said Tom Mirti, director of the Bureau of Water Resource Information at the St. Johns River Water Management District. “Then it’s, ‘Do we get a hurricane or a tropical depression?’ I’m wishing for a really long tropical depression.”

Blame the climate dominator, La Niña, for parching Florida and its neighboring states for the second year in a row.

La Niña refers to conditions in which the Pacific Ocean cools near the equator, sending high-altitude jet streams into a tizzy that inflicts the Southeastern U.S. with less rain than normal during fall, winter and spring months.

A third La Niña in a row isn’t expected to develop later this year, though the reliability of a prediction that far out is uncertain, said Ed O’Lenic, chief of the climate-operations branch in the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

All of Florida was engulfed by drought to some degree in February of last year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor program, which relies on state, federal and university partners to map the nation’s dry spells.

Conditions across much of the U.S. South, after growing even harsher through early summer, finally began to moderate in August. By then, however, seemingly unstoppable, huge fires were raging across Texas, destroying hundreds of home amid the worst drought on record in that state.

Florida’s peninsula, especially South Florida, finally got a huge break with heavy rain in October.

Now, once again, the entire state is experiencing drought, and this time nearly a quarter of Florida is affected by extreme drought, compared with about 10 percent last year.

Hardest hit is North Florida, where the drought is extreme. Conditions in Orange, Seminole, Lake and Volusia counties are rated as severe.

Ordinarily, the driest part of the year lasts from fall through spring, with rainfall averaging about a half-inch a week.

But during the current dry season, most of Central Florida is even drier than normal, with 5 inches to 8 inches less rainfall than usual since Nov. 1, said Derrick Weitlich, leader of the climate program at the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

“January was the record driest for many sites across the area, with some areas not receiving any rainfall whatsoever,” Weitlich said. “Orlando only received 0.13 inches of rainfall in January, and that was the third-driest January on record.”

Brief relief may be just weeks away.

Geoff Shaughnessy, senior meteorologist at the South Florida Water Management District, said statistics indicate a bump in rainfall — a kind of miniature rainy season — from about March 15 to March 25.

“That doesn’t play out every year, but it’s interesting that our 30-year record shows a period there of getting decent rain,” Shaughnessy said. “If we can get those rains in March and maybe in April — a few soaker events — then maybe we can hang in there until the wet season starts.”

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Article source: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-florida-drought-worsens-20120225,0,3455144.story The feed :

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