published Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

A deluge in Florida

"When it rains it pours" is familiar as both the trademarked phrase closely associated with a popular brand of salt and as an adage associated with the times in life when everything seems to be going wrong. Many Floridians can add a more weather-related definition to the phrase this week. It really does pour when the rain is produced by a tropical storm like Debby, which has been battering the state since last weekend. Some places in Florida have reported two or more feet of rain in the last few days.

The consequences have been dire. Rain totals have been enormous -- over 26 inches in three days in Wakulla in the northwestern part of the state. Brooksville, Tarpon Springs and Largo reported more than a foot. Tampa and St. Petersburg were inundated , too, with many roads and neighborhoods in both cities flooded. On Tuesday, state officials closed parts of Interstate 10 due to flooding.

Many creeks, rivers and bays were overflowing their banks and on-shore winds piled water up on beaches, producing severe erosion. Though wind associated with the slow-moving storm was not a major problem, at least one tornado was reported and tens of thousands of people were without power Tuesday. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency and public emergency officials and private groups were working diligently to provide assistance to those in need, though doing so is difficult in some areas. Waters are expected to rise for a couple of days after the storm passes.

There's little prospect for immediate improvement in some areas, including many popular tourist sites. The slow-moving storm is not expected to clear Florida until Thursday. That means some areas of the state will get additional rain that will prompt new flooding. The scenario is not better in parts of southern Georgia. Forecasters predict 10 inches or more of rain there in the next couple of days.

Some rain would have been welcome in Florida and in Georgia. Both have been experiencing significant drought. The torrential rains will help relive that situation but leave others in its wake. Cleanup and a return to a more normal life in the hardest hit areas -- if that's possible during hurricane season -- will take time.

Debby's deluge caught many Floridians off guard, but it does teach a valuable lesson. Hurricanes and the dangers they pose get a lot of publicity -- and properly so -- but a tropical storm, especially a slow moving one that pours a foot or more of rain in many locales across the state -- can wreak havoc and make life miserable for millions.

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I'm hoping their lucky and this is the only disaster for them this year.

June 27, 2012 at 1:09 a.m.
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