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Florida Is In A ‘Moderate’ Drought. Rain Next Week Should Bring Some Relief

A map detailing the drought status of Florida, which is experiencing a moderate drought throughout most of the state and severe drought in parts of the panhandle.
Courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor
Despite rain chances increasing for the Tampa Bay area next week, the drought consuming a majority of Florida persists.

Despite rain chances increasing for the Tampa Bay area next week, the drought consuming a majority of Florida persists.

So far, more than 80 percent of the state is experiencing a moderate drought -- a jump from last week's 65 percent -- according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 
Additionally, the Orlando Sentinel reported only 6 percent of the state was classified as drought status at this time last year.

The worst effects are being seen in a portion of the panhandle, which is experiencing a severe drought. Others in the northern and southern parts of the state are only experiencing "abnormally dry" conditions.

Florida experienced its hottest March on record and its second driest, aiding the growth of the drought. The rain gauges  at both Tampa International Airport and Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg recorded zero inches of rainfall for the entire month.

During March 2019, the rain gauges recorded a combined 2.65 inches.

According to Tony Hurt, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Tampa Bay location, the Bay area could experience minor damage to crops and cattle due to the drought. He added there is little in the way of water shortages, but some could be starting to develop.

He said the expected rainfall for the early parts of next week could relieve some of the drought concerns, but not eliminate it.

"With us being in moderate drought right now, at least we won't be heading towards a severe drought necessarily in the short term," he said.

The National Weather Service's forecast expects a 40 percent chance of rain Monday and 45 percent chance on Tuesday. The highest chance will come on Wednesday with 60 percent followed by a drop to 25 percent on Thursday.

"Beyond that there looks to be a bit of a pattern change," Hurt said.

He added the change in pattern could be expected to continue until mid- to late-April. The shift could stave off more severe drought effects.

It won't get the Tampa Bay area completely out of the woods, though.

"We look at duration and intensity of rainfall," he said. "So say we have a few weeks of above-normal precipitation -- maybe an inch or two above normal for a period of weeks-- that could then start to reverse the condition of the drought.

"What we're looking for in our situation now is, maybe, an inch or two of rain over the course of three to four weeks."

The Climate Prediction Center forecasted a likely development or duration of a drought in parts of Florida to continue through June 30.

The Southwest Water Management District, which includes the Tampa Bay area, reported that aquifer levels for Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties were down to the 48 percentile compared to 70 last year. The number is still considered at a normal range.

Jonah Hinebaugh is the WUSF social media intern for spring 2020.
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