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Nearly 4 inches of rain fell in an hour in Sarasota – and the 1 in 1,000-year record event could happen again

South Florida Weather for Wednesday 6/12/2024 7AM
South Florida Weather for Wednesday 6/12/2024 7AM 00:36

The Sunshine State is no stranger to rainstorms, but one city there saw a record-breaking deluge Tuesday night. Sarasota, Florida, received nearly 4 inches of rain in just one hour.

The National Weather Service recorded 3.93 inches of rain at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

"That's the most ever in an hour," CBS News senior weather producer David Parkinson said on Wednesday.  "[It's] an event that has a 0.1% probability (or once per 1,000 years)." 

The National Weather Service said that one of its stations in Siesta Key, less than 7 miles from Sarasota, reported nearly a foot of rain with many areas getting over 5 inches within the past 24 hours. Sarasota and several other nearby areas saw even higher rainfall amounts, the agency said, with coastal Sarasota seeing between 6 and 10 inches of rain on Tuesday. 

Sarasota, Punta Gorda and Fort Myers are all under a flood watch until at least 8 p.m. on Thursday. Much of the Sarasota flooding was captured on camera, with pictures and videos showing people pushing submerged cars off of roads, slow-moving fire trucks causing wakes on water-covered streets and popular area St. Armand's Circle looking as if its boutique stores are waterfront properties. 

Other parts of the state were also hit. In the past 24 hours, Miami Beach saw almost 7 inches of rain, while Hallandale Beach got 6 inches, and Hollywood, North Miami and Coral Gables received just over 5 inches of rainfall, CBS News Miami reported.

According to Parkinson, the 1 in 1,000-year event in Sarasota could happen again – not even 24 hours later. He said that such intense rain is possible again on Wednesday and Thursday and that there is potential for another foot of rain "on top of what's already fallen." 

"All of the southern third of Florida is at risk here, and flash flooding is likely," he said. The heaviest rain will last through Thursday, although showers are expected to continue into Saturday. 

The rainy weather comes as the National Hurricane Center continues to monitor a low-pressure system moving over Florida. That system is "producing a large area of disorganized showers and thunderstorms," the center said in a Wednesday morning update, adding there is a "low" 20% chance that the system could continue to develop into a bigger tropical storm within the week.

The frequency and intensity of rainstorms are only expected to increase as global temperatures warm, as increased heat speeds up precipitation, helping fuel storms. This year has already seen back-to-back heat records across the planet, and those temperatures are not expected to diminish with the continued burning of fossil fuels, which trap heat within the atmosphere. 

Rising global temperatures also lead to another problem – drought. Sarasota's downpour this week comes as the area has been facing a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The government-run monitor shows that drought has impacted the entire county, which saw its 38th driest April in 130 years of record-keeping. 

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