Breaking: 920,000 Palm Beach County residents living with moderate drought

More than 900,000 Palm Beach County residents are living with “moderate drought” conditions that Wednesday’s rainfall was unlikely to quench.

A Thursday report from the National Drought Mitigation Center shows 70 percent of the county is in a moderate drought — the second tier on a 5-level drought scale — with the remainder considered abnormally dry.

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The report does not include Wednesday’s lengthy downpour, but even with some areas of South Florida receiving more than 2 inches of rain, a prolonged dry spell has left Palm Beach County with a hefty rain deficit.

Following a tally of Wednesday’s rain totals, coastal areas of the county were still down 6 inches of rain, with inland areas at a deficit of between 3 and 4 inches, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

“We are nowhere near out of this yet,” said Scott Peterich, a Florida Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation Specialist in Palm Beach County. “We are thankful for every drop we get, but until we start getting more consistent rain, the drought index will keep going up.”

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Wednesday’s wet weather was the first significant rainfall since Jan. 29 when 0.45 inches fell at Palm Beach International Airport. There is no rain in the forecast through at least mid-week.

The airport received 1.70 inches on Wednesday — more in one day than the total amount received between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21.

South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith said despite the deluge, the district is still asking people to conserve water and follow year-round water guidelines that allow landscape irrigation 2-3 times per week.

“A fairly large rainfall deficit still exists for the dry season, therefore conservation is critical for protecting the water supply as the wet season is about three months away,” Smith said.

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Wildfire burns on the Treasure Coast in this Feb. 16, 2017 photo

Wildfire burns on the Treasure Coast in this Feb. 16, 2017 photo

The rainy season in South Florida usually begins in mid-May and lasts into October.

The average rainfall deficit for the 16 counties managed by the district was 4 inches as of Thursday. Martin and St. Lucie counties are down 5.5 inches of rain and also ranked as “moderately dry” in Thursday’s drought report.

While wildfires are still a concern, the rain lowered the risk with Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast at a low risk. The Keetch-Byram Drought Index also improved. The index measures drought on a 0-to-800 scale with 800 being desert-like and 0 being saturated ground.

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On Thursday, the mean index level for Palm Beach County was 512, and there were no areas above 600, which is associated with more severe drought and an increase in intense wildfires.

Still, Peterich expected Palm Beach County would be back above 600 within a few days.

“In Florida, we don’t have a wildfire season, we have activity all year long,” Peterich said. “It just gets more heightened as we dry out.”

On Thursday, 26 wildfires were burning statewide, but none were in Palm Beach County or the Treasure Coast.

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