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Record-breaking rainfall creating problems in state

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TALLAHASSEE — Record-breaking amounts of rainfall this summer are leading to serious issues for Florida, according to Florida State University researcher and State Climatologist David F. Zierden and his colleagues at the Florida Climate Center.

“The rain this summer has been frequent, widespread and heavy at times,” Zierden said. “From South Florida to the Panhandle and Southeast Alabama, and even the western and central parts of the Carolinas, the last three months rank among the wettest ever with many areas setting records. Even in the parts that have received a little less rainfall, saturated soils and standing water are a huge problem.”

Some of the biggest issues arising from the record-setting rainfall are the negative impacts on North Florida’s agricultural communities, according to William Birdsong, an extension specialist and agronomist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System who works with the Florida Climate Center. 

Corn harvests have slowed down because the fields are too wet and agricultural equipment movement is hampered by soggy soil. Cotton growers are also having problems getting into their fields to apply nitrogen and other needed treatments. With so much rain and very shallow root systems, researchers say that the cotton plants in many fields are struggling to get enough oxygen from the soils.  

Cool April temperatures followed by the frequent rains are also making vegetables and melons late to harvest and of lesser quality, and standing water is destroying peanut plants in many fields.

“Even if things start drying out now, there are going to be substantial agricultural losses this year,” Zierden said. 

While North Florida is experiencing agricultural issues, South Florida has endured the wettest April-July on record going back to 1932. Districtwide rainfall for those four months was 31.70 inches, beating the 1968 mark of 31.55 inches. Lake Okeechobee levels are currently very high at 15.78 inches, requiring large releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee canals for flood control as the peak of the tropical cyclone season approaches. Researchers say these types of water releases can impact the health of fragile ecosystems in coastal estuaries.

“Surprisingly, nearly all of this rainfall has not come from tropical depressions or storms,” Zierden said. “Instead, a recurring pattern of high pressure ridging over the western United States and troughing or lower pressures over the central and eastern United States set itself up time and time again this summer. The subtropical or ‘Bermuda’ high has been pushed further eastward over the Atlantic Ocean, allowing a very moist southerly flow of tropical humidity over the region. Add to that an unstable atmosphere and stalled frontal boundaries over the northern Gulf Coast, showers and thunderstorms have been numerous, frequent and widespread.”