As southwest Floridians, we are all aware of our two seasons — wet and dry. But when the dry season (October – May) is abnormally dry that is called a drought. The 2019-2020 dry season has been abnormally dry, but will the drought last?
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 marked the first day of Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Phase I Water Shortage Restrictions. March was one of the driest months on record for much of Florida. We received less than 1 inch of rainfall over the month in Sarasota County. By mid-April the drought was intensifying. The Southwest Florida Water Management District Board met during this time and passed the resolution declaring Phase 1 Water Shortage Restrictions for the district through July 1. Thankfully, at the end of April, we got the tail end of an intense storm system that brought with it 5 inches of rain in two-days. This rain and subsequent smaller rain events have moved our county from “severe drought” reported last month to “abnormally dry”.
What is drought?
A drought is a period of lower than normal precipitation that creates drier than normal conditions. As a result, water-related problems ensue. Some droughts, like the drought of 1998-2002 can last for long periods and create many water-related problems including increased wildfires, salt water intrusion, sinkholes, and water supply shortages (United States Geological Survey 2006). The featured image of the dried Peace River bed in Bartow was taken during this drought period. While other droughts (like hopefully the 2020 drought) can be short-lived causing challenging conditions for plants, but little other water-related problems.
When monitoring drought, scientists must observe more than precipitation and temperature. Variables such as stream and river levels, groundwater levels and soil moisture are also considered.
In 2006, Congress passed a law that mandated interagency collaboration for drought monitoring and management. This interagency collaboration became known as the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NIDIS is mandated to integrate research, strengthen the federal, tribal, state and local collaborations and partnerships, and create a national early warning system for drought. To date, NIDIS has put together a drought monitoring index that assists states and local managers with decision making. The index is updated every Thursday and is a compilation of information collected on precipitation, temperature, stream water levels, groundwater levels, and soil moisture.
A drought early warning system (DEWS) is very challenging to create because different states and territories across the U.S. have different indicators (e.g. snowpack versus precipitation) and vulnerabilities. As a result, NIDIS is working on regional DEWS that do a better job at clumping similarities. Unfortunately, Florida is currently not apart of a DEWS region.
Alternatively, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center monitors and uses climate predictions to create monthly and seasonal drought outlooks. This index is produced to showcase large-scale trends based on statistics and dynamic modeling. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released May 21, 2020 shows Florida drought likely removed by August 31. This is great news for Floridians.
A recent study published by the Alliance for Water Efficiency in January 2020 shows mandatory conservation measures such as day-of-week irrigation restrictions are one of the most successful at generating statistically significant water savings. Thus, abiding by our year-round water restrictions is an essential component of a successful drought response. So let’s all make it our duty to aid our region in a successful drought response while we eagerly wait for the wet season to arrive.
An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices. Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities. View the complete policy at www.scgov.net/ADA.