Florida's Drought Has Worsened So Much That Airboats in the Everglades Are Getting Stuck

Jon Erdman
Published: April 20, 2017

Florida's lack of rain the past few months, even by dry season standards, left airboats stuck in the wetlands of the Everglades. 

A Broward County Fire Rescue airboat had to be freed Wednesday after getting stuck in low water in the Everglades after helping to free a civilian airboat.

Over the past two months, drought conditions have developed and worsened over a sizable swath of the Florida Peninsula.

Florida drought monitor analysis as of April 18, 2017. Areas in drought are depicted by progressively darker tan contours. Areas "abnormally dry" are depicted by the yellow contour.

As of April 18, about half the state (46 percent) –  an area including an estimated 10.2 million residents – was classified in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor analysis. This is the largest swath of the Sunshine state in drought since April 2, 2013.

The worst of the drought was a swath of central and southwest Florida, including Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fort Myers, Naples, Melbourne, and parts of the Orlando metro area.

Orlando International Airport had yet to receive any measurable rainfall this month through April 19, only the second time that has happened dating to 1953.

The paltry 0.10 inch of rain since March 1 was the driest spring-to-date rain total in 122 years of metro area records. Average rainfall from March 1-April 19 is 5.59 inches.

Fort Myers (0.35 inch; fourth driest) and Naples (0.89 inch; 10th driest) have also had a notably dry spring.

Given the prolonged lack of rain, Florida's peak of the wildfire season, typically during the spring months, has been quite active. 

Thirty-one wildfires over 100 acres in size were burning in the state as of April 19, according to the Florida Forest Service.

(MORE: Average Yearly Florida Acreage Burned Surpassed in April)

Seventeen Florida counties have burn bans in effect from the Okeefenokee Swamp to Palm Beach and Hendry Counties. 

Wet Season Ahead

Florida has distinct dry and wet seasons. 

Average rainfall at Miami International Airport.
(Data: NOAA/NWS)

From November through April, the weather pattern is usually dominated by dry air, with the occasional passage of cold fronts, reinforcing dry air from the rest of the U.S.

Any rain associated with these frontal passages is usually in the form of thin bands that sweep quickly through before they can dump significant rainfall.

From late spring through early fall, Florida's wet season sets in. Cold fronts can no longer penetrate that far south, so warmth and humidity build.

(MORE: Summer 2017 Outlook)

As cooler air glides inland from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, thunderstorms can erupt along sea-breeze fronts. These thunderstorms can be a daily occurrence. Sometimes these storms may move very slowly, quickly dumping several inches of rain.

Then there's hurricane season.

You don't need a large hurricane to dump prodigious rain on the Sunshine State.

(MORE: 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook)

So while the increased heat and humidity later in the spring may not be celebrated, the wet season's return of soaking thunderstorms should help tamp down the wildfire threat and replenish water supplies, including in the Everglades.  

Jonathan Erdman is a senior meteorologist at weather.com and has been an incurable weather geek since a tornado narrowly missed his childhood home in Wisconsin at age 7. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

MORE: Florida Landscapes and Seascapes (PHOTOS)

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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