First Friday will not take place downtown tonight.
Tropical Storm Arlene – the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season – formed in the Gulf of Mexico around 1:30 p.m. Friday. It is expected to remain offshore and weaken overnight, but may still bring “excessive rainfall and severe storm potential” to our area, according to the National Weather Service.
Arlene was about 265 miles west of Fort Myers and had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph with higher gusts, according to an 1 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. The storm is expected to weaken due to wind shear and dry air, forecasters said.
Brittany Melson, event manager for the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, said the agency felt it was not safe to have vendors and visitors in the streets under stormy conditions, so this month’s family fun-themed First Friday event is canceled.
The LDDA does not reschedule First Fridays, so the next one will be in July, Melson said.
Thursday was the first day of the 2023 hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30. A disaster preparedness sales tax holiday is in effect statewide through June 9 for anyone needing to stock up on supplies like flashlights, batteries or generators. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts there will be one to four major hurricanes this year.
The rainy weather has had a few silver linings, however.
The Polk County Fire Chief has lifted the burn ban that was implemented on March 30 after extreme drought conditions raised the risk of uncontrolled fires.
As of Thursday, less than half of the county was over 500 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index. The KBDI index is used by the Florida Forest Service to assess the likelihood and severity of brush fires. The scale begins at zero, which reflects no danger, and rises to 800, which reflects extreme danger.
The Lakeland Fire Department shared the news on social media, but urged residents to please “continue to practice safety measures when using fire for cooking or recreational purposes.” Burning trash is prohibited in the city of Lakeland.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District reported Friday that May brought “above average” rainfall to our region with 4.92 inches, bringing the year-to-date total to 10.22 inches. That is still lower than the historical average of 14.47 inches at this point in the year, but it has helped to replenish aquifer levels.
The central region aquifer’s level is in now the 62nd percentile relative to its historic levels, which is considered within normal range, but SWFWMD said water resources remain limited. The district encourages year-round “efficient, non-wasteful uses of water to sustain our high quality of life.”
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