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Water-Related News

Drought vs deluge: Rainfall totals either too little or too much on each of Florida’s coasts

One side of Florida is running out of water. The other is getting bombarded with too much rain

ST. PETERSBURG – In Florida, this year has been a tale of two states as far as rainfall totals, with the southeast coast deluged by sometimes-record rainfall and much of the Gulf of Mexico coast facing a drought.

Counties up and down Florida’s west side are under new water use restrictions, especially in one area where the water table has gotten so low that wells could dry up. Now Florida’s wettest season is over until late spring.

What’s happening in Florida could soon become a reality elsewhere, as farmers and residents increasingly have to deal with changes in weather patterns because of climate change. This means hotter temperatures in summer, more powerful hurricanes and other heavier rainstorms and droughts during unexpected seasons.

“You know, as the climate changes, we’re going to have to adapt to these extremes,” said Dan Durica, a board member at Tampa’s Sweetwater Organic Community Farm. “And so you have to know how to deal with like the boom and bust of the, like, climate chaos.”

For most people, the restrictions affect lawn and landscape watering, which accounts for about half the water used daily in the affected areas. For example, in three counties around Tampa Bay watering is only allowed one day a week depending on a resident’s address and only then before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

“The whole western coast of Florida has been impacted by this deficit rainfall during the rainy season,” said Mark Elsner, water supply bureau chief for the South Florida Water Management District. “With the west coast having a deficit about 30%, we didn’t get that recharge that we expected. And as a result, we have lower groundwater levels starting the dry season.”

The main driver of the precipitation divide was a weaker than typical high pressure system this summer over the western Atlantic Ocean that led to persistently lighter easterly winds, said Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service office in Miami.