Lower than normal precipitation caused a severe statewide drought in Florida from 1998 to 2002. Based on precipitation and streamflow records dating to the early 1900s, the drought was one of the worst ever to affect the State. In terms of severity, this drought was comparable to the drought of 1949-1957 in duration and had record-setting low flows in several basins. The drought was particularly severe over the 5-year period in the northwest, northeast, and southwest regions of Florida, where rainfall deficits ranged from 9-10 in. below normal (southwest Florida) to 38-40 in. below normal (northwest Florida). Within these regions, the drought caused record-low streamflows in several river basins, increased freshwater withdrawals, and created hazardous conditions ripe for wildfires, sinkhole development, and even the draining of lakes. South Florida was affected primarily in 2001, when the region experienced below-average streamflow conditions; however, cumulative rainfall in south Florida never fell below the 30-year normal. The four regions of Florida, as referred to throughout this report, are defined based upon U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data collection regions in Florida.
Record-low flows were reported at several streamflow-gaging stations throughout the State, including the Withlacoochee River at Trilby, which reached zero flow on June 10-11, 2000, for the first time during the period of record (1928-2004). Streamflow conditions varied across the State from 31 percent of average flow in 2000 in southwest Florida, to 100 percent of average in 1999 in south Florida. Low-flow recurrence intervals during the drought ranged from less than 2 years at three locations to greater than 50 years at many locations.
During the 1998-2002 drought, ground-water levels at many wells across the State declined to elevations not seen in many years. At some wells, ground-water levels reached record lows for their period of record. Florida Water Management Districts responded by issuing water-shortage mandates to curb water use during the spring months of 2000. Generally, freshwater withdrawals increased 13 percent between 1995 and 2000 as a result of the dry conditions.
Hundreds of new sinkholes developed across the State. Lake Jackson, in northwest Florida near Tallahassee, experienced its eighth and ninth drawdowns of the past 100 years, and became nearly dry. Numerous other lakes in northern and central Florida experienced similar events. Water restrictions were put into effect in urban areas of the northeast, southwest, and south Florida regions. Wildfires periodically raged over parts of Florida throughout the period, when tinder-dry undergrowth caught fire from lightning strikes or manmade causes. Smoke from these fires caused traffic delays as sections of major highways and interstate lanes forced traffic to slow to a crawl or were closed. Wildfire statistics (Florida Division of Forestry) show that 25,137 fires burned 1.5 million acres between 1998 and 2002. Finally, rainfall that occurred in late 2002, in 2003, and from a tropical storm and four hurricanes in 2004 ended this drought.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Drought of 1998-2002: impacts on Florida's hydrology and landscape
Florida Integrated Science Center
viii, 34 p.: foldout ill. (Fig. 5, Table 2), 11 x 17 in.