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Rain totals match those set in the 1800s, making for both good news and bad

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image Gail Hubbell, owner of Hubbell’s Nursery on College Avenue in Ruskin. Photo Penny Fletcher

The greenery is so dark and lush because rainwater is filled with minerals and nutrients, Hubbell explained.

By PENNY FLETCHER
 
If you’ve been a Floridian long enough to notice, this year’s September greenery is actually green for the first time in at least 35 years.

I say 35 years, because that’s as far back as I can personally remember.

Every other year, by the end of September, the grass is brown, burned up by sweltering summer heat, the flowers are wilted (if they aren’t already dead) and the leaves on most bushes and small trees used for landscaping — like hibiscus and banana and fan palms — are yellowed and limp.

Remember? It was that way just last year.

Noticing that the rains have also been different this year, coming in steady patterns instead of daily afternoon blinding thunderstorms that lasted at the most about 30 minutes and were followed by enough sweltering heat to completely dry the pavement in less than an hour, I decided to check with the experts.

What was different this year in South County? And was it particular to South County or was it happening all over the State?

Senior Forecaster Jon Jelsema welcomed me to the National Weather Service at the Ruskin Weather Station without an appointment. I appreciated that, because I don’t usually work that way. But I was driving around, noticing all the beautiful lush foliage and wondered if it had anything to do with unusual amounts of rain, and decided on the spur of the moment to check it out.

Since Jelsema has only been in this area for one year, he hadn’t connected the record rain with any difference in the landscape, but Gail Hubbell, owner of Hubbell’s Nursery had noticed it and she was able to fill in the blanks.

Together, these experts explained why the unusual rains were having both good effects and bad.

Jelsema explained the rain cycles, and Hubbell explained their effect on the local ecology.

I was definitely in luck.

“We tied the record set for rainfall in the 1800s for three consecutive months,” Jelsema said. “It was 10-inches or more. If we had done it in September also, we’d have broken the record, but the measurements are taken at Tampa International Airport and they didn’t get as much rain as we did here, only 7.37 inches (as of Sept. 27).”

This was also the first year in many the Gulf did not produce a tropical storm of significance and no hurricane. This was unexpected, because the cycles of “active hurricane seasons” and “low hurricane activity” come in 30-year periods, and the current active period does not end until 2025 he explained.

“We’re still in an active seasonal cycle that started in the mid 1990s, yet except for Tropical Storm Debbie in June2012 and Hurricane Isaac during the Republican National Convention in August 2012, we didn’t have anything of note since the 2004-2005 storms that were so intense, like Katrina.,” he said.

We have just come out of a long period of drought conditions as well, caused by the large amount of dust floating in the air coming off the Sahara region of Africa, which absorbs the moisture in the air and makes for drought conditions.

Another reason there was no heavy storm this year is that there was a high amount of vertical wind shear, added Meteorologist Robert Garcia.

“That’s a change of wind speed and direction with increasing altitude,” Garcia explained.

“It literally knocks the top off a storm and it falls like a Jenga tower,” added Jelsema. “It pushes the system over and won’t allow it to develop.”

This summer was also not as hot as normal. The highest readings in June hit 95; 94 in July and 94 again in August. We also had a more consistent type of rain. “A little here, a little there, no afternoon thunderstorms that hit hard and produced run off,” Jelsema said.

Switching to the effects of weather conditions on local plant life, I drove to Hubbell’s Nursery where I have had a reliable source for many years.

The greenery is so dark and lush because rainwater is filled with minerals and nutrients, Hubbell explained. But so much rain has also done two damaging things: a fungus is developing in places, causing people to use more pesticides, and some plants are yellowing, and people mistakenly think they are wilting from lack of water and water them again when they are really drowning.

“They need to understand the plants they have,” Hubbell said.

Usually a lot of rain makes grass yellowish but this year’s rainwater seemed to be rich in nitrogen and potassium, she said. “That makes for lush green.”

One Sun City Center resident, Ed Barnes, overlooks a golf course. From his back porch, he can see the course is covered with grass that is a deep, dark green he has never seen there before.

Wes Mullins of Ruskin reports that some of his fruit trees are very different this year.

“We have a passion fruit vine and a guava tree that in the past had a couple of pieces of fruit on them but this year I’ve pulled off more than 40 pieces of fruit and it’s loaded again,” he said. “Something is definitely different.”

Weather station personnel say that since we only have about 200 years of written records, it is hard to tell about cycles, and that makes weather very difficult to predict.

“Some things are caused by specific events, but others are just cyclical,” Jelsema said.

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