Heavy rains in June brought the usual bag of mixed blessings to South Florida: fewer wildfires, more mosquitoes, a healthier Lake Okeechobee and a solid start to storing up water for the coming dry season.
Traditionally the wettest month of the year, June brought 7.5 inches of rain to the South Florida watershed, thanks largely to a thunderous six days as the fringes of Tropical Storm Debby passed over the region. The rains raised Lake Okeechobee above 12 feet for the first time in eight months and put the region’s rainfall about two inches above the average for this time of year, the South Florida Water Management District reported Monday.
But officials said it was far too soon to discuss whether a successful rainy season could lead of a relaxation of water restrictions. With the current rains providing enough water for most users, the district is focused on accumulating water for the dry season and keeping streets passable.
“Right now we’re in flood control mode,” said Susan Sylvester, the district’s chief of water control operations. “Overall, we had a typical June in our area, and because of an early start to the wet season, water levels are consistent with where they should be this time of year.”
At Lake Okeechobee, the higher water improved prospects for endangered snail kites, which abandoned nests last year because of the parched conditions.
“The rain has been great for the lake’s ecosystem,” said Jane Graham, Everglades policy associate for Florida Audubon. “Last year the lake was at severely low levels, and the snail kite nests were failing. The contrast between that and today is really stark. The snail kites are actually doing pretty well.”
The rains induced millions of mosquitoes to hatch, leading Broward and Palm Beach mosquito control agencies to dispatch aerial units to spray insecticides over many neighborhoods.
But they also reduced the risk of wildfires. After warnings of tinderbox conditions in South Florida, the rain soaked the ground sufficiently to reduce the danger.
“The risk of wildfires is down greatly,” said Chris Wasil, forest area supervisor for the Florida Division of Forestry in Palm Beach County. “The rain came early this year, right as the lightning came through.”
Drought conditions that prevailed weeks ago throughout Florida have vanished from most of the peninsula, with only a strip of territory west of Lake Okeechobee classified as experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, operated by federal and academic scientists.
Although the initial water restrictions were controversial, many people have adapted.
Margie Walden, executive vice president of the Alliance of Delray residential association, said she has heard few complaints.
“Nobody has really talked about losing a lot of landscaping or anything,” she said. “And now everything is flourishing. Everything is growing like crazy. I think everybody feels blessed that the rains have filled up the aquifer.”
Betsy Dow, president of the Coral Ridge Association in Fort Lauderdale, said the restriction has been no problem, even though her husband is an avid gardener and their tropical landscaping generates many compliments.
Among the members of her neighborhood association, she said, “It’s been a non-topic. They know what the rules are and they just follow them.”
The rainy season started May 7, two weeks early. The season typically lasts until Oct. 13 and accounts for about two thirds of the year’s rainfall. The season proceeds in three phases: May through July 4, which is the wettest period, July through mid-August, which is hotter and drier, and late August through October, which varies greatly depending on the arrival of tropical storms and cold fronts.
The rain has been heaviest in the Kissimmee Valley north of Lake Okeechobee, the headwaters of the Everglades, which supplies water to South Florida. Farther south, the heaviest rains fell along coastal areas where most people live, as opposed to the Everglades and other interior lands.
Not much rain is expected over the next few days.