Storms Continue to Bring Heavy Rain and Flooding to South Florida

Storms Continue to Bring Heavy Rain and Flooding to South Florida

The rhythms of South Florida’s rainy season used to be somewhat predictable, with hot, humid days leading to midafternoon thunderstorms and then clear skies. Sometimes a downpour would ruin the evening commute; sometimes it would start and end in the few minutes it took to leave your desk and walk to the car.

Those days feel increasingly rare.

Heavy rain from a line of storms has deluged the southern tip of the Florida peninsula for several days this week, causing widespread flooding that killed at least two people, overwhelmed roads, crippled vehicles and disrupted life in one of the nation’s busier metropolitan regions. The pounding rain came weeks after the region experienced a stretch of rainless days that were extremely hot, with the heat index last month reaching a record high of 112 degrees.

Florida’s sticky, bug-ridden storm season has always been more about endurance than enjoyment, even for those who savor the relative quiet. But staggering from oppressive heat to oppressive rain has robbed residents and businesses of a sense of routine that at least made this time of year a little more manageable.

With that loss has come a growing sense of trepidation: If the weather is acting this crazy now, what will summer bring?

“It’s like you’re holding your breath and waiting for another shoe to fall,” said Kitty McGowan, who was up for much of Wednesday night watching the floodwaters creep closer and closer to her front door in the low-lying Edgewood neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale.

Last year, in April, a huge unnamed storm dumped a record 26 inches of rain in the Fort Lauderdale area, flooding City Hall so badly that officials had to close the building for good. Three feet of water gushed into Ms. McGowan’s home; she and her husband moved back in only four months ago, after the house underwent major repairs that are still incomplete.

“Last year, everyone was saying, ‘Oh, it was the 1,000-year flood, we could have never planned for it,’” she said. But on Wednesday, she estimated that one more hour of rain would have flooded her home anew. She was bracing for a new round of storms to roll in on Thursday evening, after a delay that gave a respite for much of the day to the worst-hit communities.

Mayor Dean J. Trantalis of Fort Lauderdale, who has lived in Florida for 42 years, said local officials have had to realize that extreme weather events are more and more frequent.

“I think what we’re seeing is that the weather patterns that we’ve gotten used to are no longer,” he said. “It used to be nice to know it was going to rain for an hour and then the sun came out. And that still is the norm, but every so often, we’re going to get one of these freak storms.”

It is not that unusual for tropical rainstorms to stall over Florida as they did this week, said Amy C. Clement, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami.

“But just like most of climate change, it’s the ratcheting up of either the frequency or the intensity of things that do happen normally, like heat waves,” Dr. Clement said. “So there’s more of them, or they last longer.”

Dr. Clement herself was caught in knee-deep water while out for a walk on Tuesday morning, before the heaviest rainfall had been expected.

“When I started working on this problem in the ’90s, it was, ‘The polar ice caps are going to melt and polar bears are going to be impacted,’ like a faraway problem,” she said. “Now it’s right here at the doorstep.”

Flooding also occurred on Wednesday along parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast, especially around the Sarasota area. On Siesta Key, a barrier island, Chris Brown had to close three of his restaurants on Tuesday because of rising water and power outages. The loss of electricity meant that refrigerated food went bad, he said, and one restaurant remained closed on Thursday.

“This one just kind of snuck up on me,” he said. “They predicted rain, but they predict rain every day.”

In Miami Beach, Alfred Spellman rushed home from work early on Wednesday afternoon, making it back just before his low-lying street began taking on serious water, he said. Though the neighborhood floods perhaps twice a year, he said, he had never seen so many flooded-out cars and people stranded on the street.

By the evening, the water was up to Mr. Spellman’s back door, the highest he has seen it in the five years he has lived there.

By nighttime, the family dog, Scooby, had been stuck inside since the morning. So Mr. Spellman took out his kayak, plunked Scooby on top and paddled across a normally busy road to the median for Scooby to do his business. Mr. Spellman’s wife recorded a video.

Kitty Bennett and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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