PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — September was one of the driest months on record across the panhandle, not just for this year but since record keeping began. Now, extreme drought has spread farther south into the area and Florida Forest Service officials are hoping for any sign of relief.
“It’s about 40 or 45 days since we’ve had substantial rain,” said Steve Weherley, a 14 year veteran with the Florida Forest Service. “It hasn’t been quite this bad in quite some time.”
Weherley said during a typical year it’s not uncommon to see dry conditions creep in during October, as it is normally our driest month, but this past year has been anything but typical.
“We’re in kind of a different situation with our downed timber from the hurricane and the amount of fuels already on the ground.” He said.
Now, many places are hovering between 15 and 20 inches below average rainfall since January 1st, leading to burn bans in Walton, Holmes, Washington, Jackson and Liberty counties, as well as the City of Blountstown. While the rest of the panhandle may not be under a burn ban, there are still burn restrictions in place.
“The restrictions Florida Forest Service has on all of our counties, the 7 counties in our district, are we’re not going to issue any permits for anything like broadcast burns or piles 8 feet in diameter.”
While many areas haven’t seen rain since the end of August, that will come to an end this week. The chance for soaking rain finally returns to the forecast on Tuesday ahead of a cold front expected to move through on Wednesday, but it likely won’t be enough rain to take care of the severe and even extreme drought in places.
“The normal predictions I had seen this morning were an inch to two inches, with some spots a little more, and that’s going to help a lot,” Weherley said. “But as dry as we are it’s not going to completely take us out of the drought situation or the fire danger situation unless we have rain that comes right after that.”
And while the rain comes before the cold front, the dry conditions return after it. Thankfully this time, those dry conditions look to be short-lived as we’re tracking another chance for rain as we get into the weekend.
“There’s a front coming through that will bring us some rain into Tuesday and Wednesday and maybe a little more on Saturday,” he said. “So any amount of rain we get, the better we’ll be as far as wildfires are concerned.”
There are other factors working in our favor too. Weherley says as we lose more and more daylight, there’s less time during the day that dead timber and brush on the ground can heat up as compared to July and August. Weherley said less daylight typically helps keep any fires that start during this time of the year, smaller and easier to contain.