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Rainless days not near record for Manatee

MANATEE — The area’s 24 days without a trace of rain is not close to a record.

It’s not even near the extended dry spell here in the spring of 2007.

It just feels like one long dusty road, weather forecaster Paul Close said late Friday.

“Luckily without thunderstorms,” Close said, “we haven’t had lightning to start any fires.”

The last rainfall recorded at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport was on April 14, according to National Weather Service records.

Two small wildfires in the Myakka River District were reported Friday, but there was nothing major for another day, the Florida Division of Forestry reported.

A forest fire expert was confounded as to why in such a long dry period there have not been more wildfires.

While a southern section of state tightened restrictions on watering lawns Friday to save resources during what the regional water district called a severe drought, the Southwest Florida quadrant, including Manatee, remained under restrictions imposed in February.

Lawn sprinkling in parts of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys was ordered reduced Friday to only one day a week — the same as being imposed on the SWFWMD district, including Manatee and Sarasota counties.

The district calls those restrictions Phase III. Counties just north of Manatee are on Phase IV, which outlaws water features, car washing and other non-essential activities.

At the National Weather Service’s official weather station for Manatee County, the airport, the last recorded rain was April 14. More than an inch of rain fell on that date.

Since then — 24 days — nothing.

Weather Service records show the record dry spell at the airport as 53 days in 1967. And, just two years ago, the airport went 46 days without measureable rain, Close said.

That dryness ended June 1.

The start of the summer thunderstorm season can start as early as late May, or as late as early July. But usually in mid-June, storms roll through in the early afternoon and drop rain.

“I guess you could be lucky enough to be underneath one of those isolated showers right now,” Close said. “But there’s nothing significant in the forecast anytime soon.”

Staff at the Ruskin office of the Weather Service on Thursday watched a smoke plume in Pasco County on radar.

Close said this spring is the fourth driest on record since 1948.

Firefighters of the Florida Division of Forestry in Manatee County reported at 8:30 p.m. Friday there were two wildfires in the last 24 hours, burning four tenths of an acre in the Myakka River District of Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

For the year, there have been 150 wildfires reported in the district that burned 7,643.3 acres. Most of those occurred before the April 14 rainfall.

At the airport, normally .42 of an inch of rain has fallen in May by the eighth day.

For the year at the airport, 4.95 inches have fallen, versus the normal of 11.21.

The Keetch-Byram drought index read 593 Friday for Manatee County, an increase of five points from Thursday.

The index is a measure of moisture in soils and plants, on a scale from zero to 800. Higher values indicate drier conditions. Scores greater than 400 show a significant risk of fire, with 600 and higher showing an extreme risk.