Record-breaking waves of rain drenched South Florida on Wednesday — flooding neighborhoods, forcing people to paddle canoes and kayaks to get around, leading Sawgrass Mills to close its doors — and it’s not over yet.
Thursday is expected to be less rainy, but forecasters are predicting storms through the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
For areas hit hard by flooding, that’s not good news. South Florida remained under a flood watch until 8 p.m. Wednesday. The bad weather shut down mega-mall Sawgrass Mills for the day, and Zoo Miami closed early afternoon. Some neighborhoods in Davie and Weston looked more like Venice than suburban South Florida.
Rainfall totals in several areas broke records Tuesday and Wednesday. Fort Lauderdale broke a 1926 record of just under 2 inches of rain with 4.78 inches of rainfall Tuesday, and West Palm Beach sailed past a 3-inch record set in 1904 with 4.18 inches of rainfall. Miami nearly tied its prior record for rainfall Tuesday, coming in shy of the 2.16 inch record set in 1964.
Two-day rainfall totals for the region were more than 12 inches in parts of Broward — with 11 inches in Weston, more than 10 inches in Davie and Sunrise and over 9 inches in Hollywood and Plantation. Northern areas of Miami-Dade got more than 7.5 inches of rain in that period, according to the weather service.
For Louis Nicosia, protecting his animals was his biggest concern as he waded through knee-deep water in his Davie backyard with his pet emu, Eunice. Aside from Eunice, Nicosia and his family have dozens of exotic birds, snakes and chickens who’ve been uprooted from their flooded pens.
“The scary part about it is that it’s supposed be raining for another eight days, supposedly,’’ said Nicosia, 67. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. I can’t leave my animals.”
His wife, Phyllis, however, had other ideas: “I’m not going down with the ship!”
High water in the nearby Western Hills mobile home park in Davie was hitting residents’ front doors, prompting the Davie Fire Department to call in the Red Cross. Red Cross spokesman Roberto Baltodano said about 50 families will require assistance.
All the rain might provide some relief farther north to Lake Okeechobee, where spring drought conditions dropped water below levels considered optimal for South Florida’s water supply. In the first seven days of June, rainfall in the South Florida Water Management District, which stretches from the Kissimmee River south to Florida City, had tallied 7.66 inches. The district’s normal monthly rainfall average: 1.86 inches.
Lake levels Wednesday were at 11.2 feet, just below the 12.5 feet target.
“The rain is helping water levels in the lake and has provided a slight increase in the lake stage,” said South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith.
The showers, though less frequent, are likely to stick around for a few more days, said Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. A continuous flow of moisture in the air from the Southwest, around the low-pressure area over the Gulf of Mexico, has fed the storms in South Florida since last weekend and is unlikely to move until the end of the week.
“That’s why we’ve been in this pattern for the last few days and will continue to be in this pattern for the next few days,” Molleda said, adding that the weather pattern was not common. “Just imagine a river where the water continues to flow through. You can kind of correlate that to what you’re seeing here.”
In Weston, water sloshed into swales and lawns, and flooded backyards. Water in the Savanna community reached at least a foot deep, leading at least one person to venture out in a kayak to navigate the road.
City spokeswoman Denise Barrett said crews are operating pumping systems at maximum capacity.
“Lots of houses are built on slopes so the water can drain,” Barrett said. “We tell people that it’s highly unlikely that water will reach their house.”
The Cleveland Clinic in Weston wasn’t immune to the flooding. The hospital had to redirect emergency patients through the main door after a parking lot flooded, said Stephany Reyes, who works at the department’s registration desk. Patient vehicles struggled to make it through the water.
But Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Arlene Allen-Mitchell said it’s “business as usual.”
“Like most areas in Broward County, we’ve had lots of rain,” she said. “But appointments are as scheduled.”
Flood-prone South Beach escaped deep water, but the streets were empty early in the day.
A trio of women in town from Houston for a bachelorette party wandered down Collins Avenue before turning west at 16th Street. Caitlyn Trevino said another couple of days of this weather would alter the planned beach-and-pool activities.
“We got here and we’re, like, ‘Wow, it feels like Houston with the humidity,’’’ Trevino said. “So, we deal with this all the time. It sucks that it’s raining, but it happens to us all the time.”
Austrian Franz Steiner shrugged off the weather, saying the sun would be out again at some point.
“We’re going to take a tour of the city,” Steiner said. “Then we’re going on a speedboat to see the skyline.”
At Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, arriving employees and customers were greeted with the giant outlet mall’s shutdown for the day.
A contractor working on sidewalk repairs outside the mall noted that the repaired parts of the concrete are already flooded.
“It was all swamp 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s still a swamp today.”
Miami Herald staff writer Jenny Staletovich contributed to this report.