MANATEE -- Thunderstorms pounded the area yet again Wednesday making driving difficult as residents began preparing for the long Fourth of July holiday.
But the storms should begin to calm down in time for July 4 fireworks.
"Thursday for July 4 will be regular Florida weather, very muggy with a small chance of showers, but drier than it has been," said Tom Dougherty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
June rains broke the Southwest Florida drought, ac
cording to the National Weather Service, with 7.23 inches falling at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
The first three days of July added another 7 to 9 inches.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Ruskin predict rainfall will return to seasonal averages beginning late Thursday and into the weekend. But not before wreaking havoc on flooded streets and swamped lawns.
"In the past three days we have a range of 5 to 7 inches of rain estimated by the radar," forecaster Rodney Wynn said. "The highest area has been 9 inches, which has been out west between Bradenton and Homes Beach."
Thursday's forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain in the day with thunderstorms tampering off by night and a 30 percent chance of precipitation during fireworks celebrations.
"By later this week, the weekend and into next week we should be returning to normal seasonal patterns with typical thunderstorms and afternoon showers," Wynn said.
Wednesday afternoon's torrential rainfall and frequent lightning strikes dumped 1 to 2 inches of rain in a short time in some areas.
Flooding forced two road closures Wednesday afternoon, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
Beach Road and Midnight Pass on Siesta Key were swamped as was U.S. 41 near Southgate Mall.
Authorities reported no street flooding or road closures in Manatee County or in Bradenton although traffic was complicated by water accumulations.
Severe weather struck neighboring counties, too. Pasco and Pinellas counties had several thunderstorms move through Wednesday afternoon.
Lightning was also an issue with strikes appearing on radar all up and down the coast.
While weather caused dangerous situations for drivers, children were having fun in the rain, especially with fish displaced by water surges and overflows.
"They were flipping and flopping all over," said 9-year-old Troy Bernhardt of fish they were collecting in a large bucket.
Bernhardt said he thought the fish swam out of the storm drains at the intersection of 18th Avenue West and 49th Street West in Bradenton. After collecting a full bucket, they planned on releasing them back into the storm drain.
"There's no point in killing them. They're fish and you don't just kill 'em for no reason," Bernhardt said.
-- Tiffany Tompkins-Condie, staff photographer, contributed to the report.
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.