Heavy localized rains leave Fort Myers, Cape Coral saturated with four weeks left in rainy season
Tide phases were high this past weekend, but that's not what filled up your ditch and backyard.
Heavy rains Saturday hit the Fort Myers-Naples area, dropping several inches in a span of hours and leaving the landscape soggy and saturated.
Nearly 3 inches fell at Page Field Airport in Fort Myers, where the National Weather Service station is located. Higher amounts were reported outside the city.
"It was one of the stronger cells," said Dan Noah, with NWS in Ruskin, which covers the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area north to Tampa. "The rivers tend to go into minor flood stages and the ditches and streams get filled in."
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A trace of rain fell Sunday in Fort Myers with no measurable precipitation on Monday.
The average rainfall for a Sept. 17 in Fort Myers is 0.3 inches, according to NWS records, while the record for that date is 6.4 inches (2000).
In Naples, less than one-tenth of an inch of rain fell Saturday, with just a trace on Sunday and no rain on Monday, according to NWS in Miami, which covers the Naples-Marco Island area.
"These summertime summer storms you can get 2 inches of rain in one area and get point zero one inches 2 miles away," said George Rizzuto, meteorologist with NWS in Miami. "It can be super localized like that."
Lake Okeechobee levels are at dry season levels during the height of rainy season
Drier air will move into this region
With Hurricane Fiona expected to head north well off the East Coast of Florida, drier air will move into this region over the next few days, Rizzuto said.
"Beyond Wednesday we'll see a sharp reduction in rain chances to 20 to 30% up until Saturday," Rizzuto said. "Fiona will push drier air into our region. It's still possible to get some activity but it's not going to be as widespread as we've had recently."
Heavy rains during the summer often lead to heavy river flows.
Flows Sunday along the Caloosahatchee River at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam topped 15,000 cubic feet per second, several fold the amount needed to cause harm to the river's estuary.
Healthy rates at the structure range from 800 to 2,800 cubic feet per second, advocates say.
"This is often when you see those organic plumes well into the Gulf of Mexico," said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani. "(In Alva) we got over the weekend over 4 or 5 inches."
The Caloosahatchee River's estuary starts at the Franklin Lock and flows west to the Gulf of Mexico.
High flows can push freshwater several miles into the Gulf.
"If (the flows) continue for four or five days, it's going to purge the estuary and essentially make it fresh," Cassani said. "The other thing you see is freshwater is less dense than the salty water so it tends to float on the surface like a lens."
Cassani said he and others in the ecological sciences community believe rainfall patterns here have been disrupted in recent decades, that draining the Everglades for farming and development has changed the timing and duration of the once-predictable daily thunderstorms.
"I see these as omens of climate change," Cassani said. "We don't see a regular rainfall time or amount. It just seems to come in clusters in very intense rainfall events. Then we don't have rain for a week and it gets dry and then you get these gully washers."
Noah said the recent thunderstorms and above-average rain this month have set the landscape up for further flooding should a tropical storm or hurricane impact this area.
"If we were to have a tropical storm, the ground is already saturated, so that would lead to more widespread flooding," Noah said.
The tropics have become more active in recent weeks
The tropics have become more active in recent weeks, although the larger systems have stayed well away from Florida and out in the open Atlantic Ocean.
Noah said Southwest Floridians should be keeping an eye on the tropics over the next several days as a wave moves across the Caribbean.
"The tropics are acting up so people should keep on eye on the forecast every day, especially toward the weekend," Noah said. "One model brought it to Brownsville and one sent it to Tampa. it might be a good time to enhance your hurricane kit because the next couple of months look to be busy."
The Lee-Collier area, on average, has seen 9 inches of rain
The Lee-Collier area, on average, has seen 9 inches of rain, which is more than 3 inches above average for this point in September, according to South Florida Water Management District records.
This region is 4.7 inches above average for the summer rainy season, according to district records.
Nearly 52 inches of rain (or 110% of average) has fallen here so far this year.
The regular rains will likely end in the next few weeks as the average end of the rainy season here is Oct. 15.
Noah said conditions to the north are already a little drier than they were a few weeks ago but that Lee and Collier counties will see higher chances of rain.
"You are more tropical in nature than Tampa, so it takes a little longer for the moisture to get out of that area," Noah said. "So that area has a higher chance of rain over the next five days and through the weekend."
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