NAPLES — A lack of tropical activity made a dry July even drier in Southwest Florida.
What started as a promising wet season with record rainfall toward the end of May evaporated in July, which saw a nearly 5-inch deficit from the 30-year average.
Through Friday evening, the National Weather Service reported a total of 3.18 inches of rainfall at Naples Municipal Airport during July, compared to an average of 7.98 inches. And the measly inch count would have been even worse had it not been for 0.64 inch of rain that fell over the area through early Friday evening.
Last year, 9.83 inches of rain fell over the area.
And Southwest Florida seems to be all alone in the dry spot.
The South Florida Water Management District reported that the southwest coast region, which covers much of coastal Collier and Lee counties was one of the only areas in the district to receive a rainfall deficit. Through Friday evening, the area had received 74 percent of the 30-year average or a deficit of 2.19 inches.
By comparison, some areas on the east coast received more than 120 percent of the 30-year average.
Todd Barron, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said this summer has been atypical because of inconsistent wind flow.
The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples has seen the ramifications of an unusually dry wet season.
A fire started by a lightning strike destroyed 400 acres near Interstate 75 at the reserve last week and staff said the lack of precipitation is to blame.
Kim Ernstrom, fire management officer for the reserve, said July’s dry weather allowed the fire to expand beyond the point of an average summer brush fire.
“Small brush fires are a natural process,” Ernstrom said. “They are good for the wildlife and containing the vegetation, but not when they’re this size.”
Staff at the reserve said they depend on summer rain to leave standing water on the ground to help survive the drier winter and spring seasons.
July saw 13 days of measurable precipitation, according to the National Weather Service. The area normally gets a near-daily drenching in July. Last year, rain fell on 25 days during July, according to the National Weather Service. July 1 was the only day to receive more than an inch of rain with a reported 1.02 inches.
Victor Hill, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Division of Forestry, said he is also concerned that the lack of rainfall will lead to more of these large brush fires and extend the drought through to next summer.
“We’re concerned anytime we don’t see sustained rains during the summer,” Hill said. “But this year has been particularly bad.”
The division received a call about a fire in Fort Myers on Wednesday, Hill said. It was a small brush fire typical of the dry conditions.
Hill said weather trends are always unpredictable so the Division of Forestry is doing what it can to take advantage of the current situation.
The Division of Forestry led a controlled burn on 64 acres of land near Golden Gate Estates on Thursday. The burn helped clear overgrown vegetation and created new paths for wildlife in the area.
Barron said Southwest Florida may see some traditional summer patterns of afternoon showers over the next couple of weeks.
“Five years ago, in 2004, the summer was off to a slow start too. That’s the year we got Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. We had a total of 15 named storms that year. A slow start doesn’t tell us anything.”
Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center
An opportunity for rain was missed last week when a tropical wave headed toward the state stopped short around the Bahamas and headed north.
Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said the wave brought no rain to Florida.
Feltgen said Floridians should not assume a quiet month means a slow hurricane season, but a recently formed El Niño may suppress storm formations through the winter.
“The El Niño will keep the number of storms down,” Feltgen said. “But it only takes one big one to make it a bad hurricane season. And El Niño doesn’t mean we’re safe.”
Feltgen warned that peak hurricane season is still a month away and said not to get too comfortable with the quiet summer.
“Five years ago, in 2004, the summer was off to a slow start too,” Feltgen said. “That’s the year we got Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. We had a total of 15 named storms that year. A slow start doesn’t tell us anything.”
Feltgen said there are no official predictions yet, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release an outlook for the upcoming hurricane season on Aug. 6.