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May forecast: Rainy, with a chance of wildfires

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Published:   |   Updated: May 3, 2013 at 06:35 AM
TAMPA -

Keep your umbrellas close today.

But while you're at it, don't discount the threat of wildfires, even after all the rain that has soaked the Tampa area this week.

Weather forecasters say May is a transitional month that not only denotes the change from spring to summer, but also contains a widely varying mix of dry and wet.

Forestry officials say they welcome the wetter weather of recent days but said the ground is still not damp enough to end the worry about brush fires. May is usually a high-risk month for wildfires because the rainy season has not yet started in earnest but the temperatures rise and lightning storms are frequent.

“The rain is a blessing for us,” said Bill Delph, a wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Forest Service. “But it hasn't rained enough to keep the ground dry. It dries out in one day.”

Delph said the forestry service had to put out a small four-acre brush fire in Polk County on Wednesday night. Last week, firefighters contended with a 365-acre brush fire in River Ranch Acres, just east of Bartow.

“We're still right in the middle of the dry season,” he said.

Relief from drought-like conditions arrived earlier this week as a thunderstorms rolled through the area.

The wet trend continues today with a 70 percent chance of rain, said Thomas Dougherty, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. Skies are expected to clear by the weekend, with only a 20 percent chance of rain Saturday.

Dougherty said there is no front or “weather system-maker” pushing through the southeast region of the country but rather disorganized and “unsettled weather conditions” causing all the rain.

“It's not unusual to have this kind of weather this time of year,” he said. “May is a transitional month, coming out of the drier spring time, with a little bit of rain.”

Nearly an inch of rain has fallen in the Tampa area since Wednesday, forecasters said.

That's a big difference after an unusually dry spring. Tampa had 0.63 inches of rain in January and 0.93 inches of rain in February, forecasters said.

Conditions were so dry the Southwest Florida Water Management District voted to impose once-a-week watering restrictions until July 31.

Rainfall totals shot up to 2 inches in March and 3.65 inches in April, more than an inch above average, Dougherty said.

Delph said May is usually the worst time for fire weather because of sporadic rainfall and more wind that could waft embers and spread brush fires.

“May is the worst as a rule because it's probably drier here than anywhere else in Florida,” he said.

Average rainfall in May is 2.10 inches, forecasters said, while average rainfall in June is 6.68 inches.

Brush fire season started in October and ends June 1 — the start of hurricane season.


rreyes@tampatrib.com

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