Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

March 6, 2013

Geologist: ‘Sinkhole season’ has only just begun in Florida

SEFFNER, Fla. — As crews entombed a man who was swallowed by a sinkhole near Tampa, the earth opened up again just a few miles away. On Tuesday, in a neighboring county, officials investigated reports of a home cracking, perhaps due to another sinkhole.

Across Florida this time of year, it’s the start of what’s unofficially considered the “sinkhole season,” State Geologist Jonathan Arthur said. It coincides with the beginning of the state’s rainy season and usually lasts until the end of summer.

“Florida is famous for bugs, alligators, pythons, hurricanes and now sinkholes,” said Larry McKinnon, a Hillsborough sheriff’s office spokesman. “I think our salvation is that for most of the time, our weather is picture-perfect.”

But it’s also the weather — along with man-made factors — that exacerbate sinkholes, experts said.

Arthur said February is usually when the state is at its driest, but it’s also the start of the rainy season. Acidic rain can, over time, eat away the limestone and natural caverns that lie under much of the state, causing sinkholes. Both extremely dry weather and very wet weather can trigger sinkholes, he said.

“An extensive drought can cause soil and sediment over a cavity to be extremely dry and collapse,” said Arthur.

On the other hand, following Tropical Storm Debby in 2012, dozens of sinkholes formed in counties north of Tampa because of the rain.

In Hillsborough County, an area particularly susceptible to sinkholes, 37-year-old Jeff Bush was killed last week when a hole opened up underneath his bedroom. Engineering experts have said it is too dangerous to retrieve Bush’s body, so they demolished the home and filled the hole with gravel.

Hillsborough County is in a moderate drought, but engineers and county officials don’t know exactly why the sinkhole formed in Seffner, and said they will likely never know.

The county has had 1.56 inches of rainfall since Jan. 1; it usually averages about 5.41 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

In Pinellas County, about 30 miles away from Seffner, fire-rescue workers in the community of Palm Harbor said they asked two people to evacuate a home after the residents reported “extensive cracking on the interior and exterior of the home.” A county building inspector said the home was safe to live in, but the homeowner was seeking an engineer’s opinion.

Arthur said he looked at 50 years of data and found that there is usually an uptick of reported sinkholes in February, with an increase until about July, when activity tapers off. December and January have typically low sinkhole activity.

Florida tracks naturally-occurring sinkholes and other ground collapses following a busted water main, development and groundwater pumping for crops.

In 2010, strawberry farmers in eastern Hillsborough County pumped water from the aquifer onto their crops during cold weather so that the water would freeze on the crops, creating a layer of ice that protects the berries.

So much water was pumped that more than 65 sinkholes opened in the area and wells went dry.

“When they take water out of the ground it’s like taking air out of a balloon,” said Bill Fernandez, a Florida sinkhole repair expert. “When you suck water out of the ground, you change the hydrostatic pressure underground and that’s what can cause sinkholes.”

Arthur added that moving a lot of dirt around for development can also trigger sinkholes. On Sunday in Largo, a failure in a pipe in a mall’s stormwater control system under the parking lot caused the ground to collapse.

“There are a lot of variables,” said Arthur. “Sinkholes are naturally occurring. Regardless of human activity they would occur.”

———

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Palestinian rivals to try again for unity deal

    Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah agreed Wednesday to form a unity government and hold new elections — a potentially historic step toward mending the rift that has split their people between two sets of rulers for seven years.

    April 24, 2014

  • Obama administration weighs clemency for inmates jailed for 10 years

    The Obama administration is encouraging many nonviolent federal prisoners to apply for early release — and expecting thousands to take up the offer.

    April 24, 2014

  • Earns Facebook_Stew.jpg Facebook 1Q results soar; CFO to step down

    Facebook’s earnings nearly tripled and revenue grew sharply in the first quarter, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations thanks to an 82 percent increase in advertising revenue.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Georgia Gun Bill_Stew.jpg Gun carry rights expanded in Ga. under new law

    Criticized by one group as the “guns everywhere” bill, Georgia took a big step Wednesday toward expanding where licensed carriers can take their weapons, with the governor signing a law that allows them in bars without restriction and in some churches, schools and government buildings under certain circumstances.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Clemson Spring Game F_Stew.jpg Clemson’s Swinney won’t change after complaint

    Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday he wouldn’t change procedures after the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter of complaint expressing concerns about the football program’s connection to the coach’s Christian religion.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1800, Congress approved a bill establishing the Library of Congress.

    April 24, 2014

  • Michigan affirmative ban is OK, Supreme Court says

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • ‘Piles and piles’ of bodies in South Sudan slaughter

    Gunmen who targeted both children and the elderly left “piles and piles” of bodies — many of those in a mosque — in a provincial capital in South Sudan, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Obama_Stew.jpg Obama views mudslide scene

    Swooping over a terrain of great sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month, then mourned privately with those who lost loved ones in the destruction.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wall Street_Stew.jpg Earnings and corporate deals lift U.S. stocks

    Corporate deals and some solid earnings reports propelled the stock market to its sixth straight gain Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results