June 21, 2008

Area Dry, but Conditions Much Improved From Last Year

By Sean Boone, Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

Jun. 21--The Florida Panhandle is still behind in rainfall, but severe drought conditions that plagued the area last year have subsided.

According to Northwest Florida Water Management District Surface Water Bureau Chief Nick Wooten, the above normal rainfall the area received in January and February greatly reduced the defi cit.

"We're still very dry and certainly below normal -- but we're not in a drought," he said.

Wooten also said popup thunderstorms and showers that have been present for the past few weeks have also been a great help in replenishing lakes and streams.

The current survey from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows abnormally dry conditions in the area -- the lowest intensity on the Monitor's drought scale.

At this time last year, area rainfall defi cits ranged from 15-25 inches below normal, placing the majority of the Panhandle in the extreme drought classifi cation.

For comparison, De-Funiak Springs typically receives 42.18 inches of rain during the spring and summer months. In 2007, the city saw 23.94 inches during that timeframe.

But even if drought conditions reappear in the area, Wooten said groundwater should remain at safe levels.

"We didn't have a water supply issue, even with the extreme drought (in 2007)," he said. "During the drought in 2000 we had some municipal water supply problems, but we were able to handle them by shifting wells."

In December 2007, drought experts from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration predicted the continuous drought for Walton County, citing a La Nina pattern.

La Nina typically brings more rainfall to the Mississippi Valley and less to areas further south.

So far this summer, the pattern has been weaker than expected.

"The La Nina pattern has not been as bad as we've seen in the past," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist from the National Drought Mitigation Center. "The Panhandle is right in the transitional area. Areas in South Florida are typically much drier (during La Nina), but we have not seen that dry pattern."

Fuchs said conditions through the fall should not show a lot of change from the current weather pattern.

"We're not really showing too much improvement or deterioration," he said. "It looks like the weather pattern we've been seeing will continue.

"The overall pattern we are going into is neutral."

Last year's drought was widespread across the Southeast and left Lake Okeechobee in South Florida with record low water levels as well as Lake Lanier, the primary water source for Atlanta.

Lanier flows into the Chattahoochee River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico near Apalachicola and has been disputed for years by authorities from Alabama, Georgia and Florida over how much water should be distributed to each state.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

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