Florida drought conditions improve in western peninsula, more rain on the way

Last weekend’s stormy weather washed away drought conditions in parts of Florida, but much of the peninsula is still unusually dry.

Most of the Orlando area is still dealing with Moderate Drought. But on the West Coast, Poke County and parts of Manatee County were removed from the Abnormally Dry category by the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday.

South Florida remained under Moderate Drought, with Severe Drought covering North Miami-Dade, eastern Collier, and southwestern Broward counties.

There was some drought expansion in East-Central Florida.

7 day rainfall

(Image credit: NOAA/ WPC)

WEEKEND RAIN EVENT ON TRACK: A stalled front will bring rain to most of the peninsula over the weekend, the National Weather Service says, with highest chances on Sunday into Monday. The Weather Prediction Center shows highest amounts in coastal East-Central Florida, where more than 2 inches could fall.


March global temps

(Image credit: NOAA/ NCEI)

WORLDWIDE WARMTH: This spring has been cool to downright cold in the eastern U.S. But globally, on land and on sea, March 2018 was the fifth-warmest on record, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported Wednesday. NASA declared it the fifth warmest March behind 2016, 2017, 2010, 2002, and 2015.

Ocean temperatures were the fifth-warmest and land temperatures were the seventh-warmest.

Hot spots included northern Africa and much of Asia, while the eastern U.S. were cooler than average as was northern Europe.

MORE APRIL MISERY: South-Central Wisconsin took another winter-style beating Wednesday with up to 8 inches of snow in some areas. Madison measured 7.2 inches, beating the previous snowfall record for April 18 of 3.4 inches set in 1912. Milwaukee and its western suburbs picked up 3-4 inches.

The snow was forecast to move into the eastern Great Lakes states Thursday, with around 2 inches expected in Upstate New York and western Pennsylvania and even down into the mountains of West Virginia.


More rain this weekend should cut into Florida’s ultra-dry conditions

Error cone changes

CONE CONCERNS: Here’s a good graphic showing how track errors have been reduced once again by the National Hurricane Center for the upcoming season. While they are not dramatic changes year-to-year, the cone of error has shrunk considerably over the last decade. This is, of course, helpful for planning purposes, but experts note that storms can and do move outside the cone. “Historical data indicate that the entire 5-day path of the center of the tropical cyclone will remain within the tropical cyclone track forecast error cone roughly 60 to 70 percent of the time,” forecasters said. (Graphic credit: NWS-Key West)


Humidity levels West Coast

(Image credit: TampaBay)

Humidity levels have been rock-bottom low around Florida this week as an unusually dry air mass settles over the peninsula. The center of the high pressure system that brought all of the cool weather was expected to be dead-center over Florida on Wednesday.

Miami was looking at relative humidity readings of 31 percent on Tuesday afternoon, but those numbers should start edging up with winds turning easterly off the Atlantic. On the West Coast, though, relative humidity could sink into the lower 20s, according to the National Weather Service in Tampa.

Despite that, the only immediate fire concerns are in northeastern Florida, where the threat of wildfires is elevated.

The abundant rain that accompanied last weekend’s strong cold front is helping to tamp down fire threats. Calm winds are also a factor.

Rainfall totals around much of the state are in positive territory for April, and another front expected to stall over South Florida this weekend should continue to help alleviate the dry conditions.

Tampa is at plus 0.92 of an inch for April and Orlando is up 0.41 of an inch. Jacksonville is up 0.45 of an inch and Gainesville is running a whopping 5.33-inch surplus thanks to a nearly 5-inch deluge on April 9.

Miami is looking at a 0.49-inch shortfall, and Key West is down an inch for the month. But Marathon is up 1.28 inches and West Palm Beach is up 2 inches.

Another 1-2 inches could fall this weekend and into early next week with the stalled front, according to NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center. All of this rain should start having an impact on Florida’s Abnormally Dry and Moderate- to Severe-Drought conditions.


Watching witches

AND THE AWARD FOR BEST WEATHER GRAPHIC GOES TO … The National Weather Service in Jacksonville used these images from the Wizard of Oz to explain the difference between watches and warnings. Some good information to remember if you run into stormy weather as you’re traveling down the Yellow Brick Road. (Image credit: NWS-Jacksonville)

Wild weather: Post cold front temps plunge nearly 50 degrees

Forecasters release details on Keys tornado

Call it chilly or call it crisp — either way this mid-April cold front really packed a punch!

Tuesday morning temperatures plunged into the 40s as far south as Collier County, and there were even a few readings in the 30s showing up in North Florida and the panhandle.

The Keys were in the 60s — it was 68 in Key West at 7 a.m. — with 50s on both coasts of South Florida; mid-40s around Lake Okeechobee; upper 40s on the Treasure Coast and upper 40s to low 50s in interior Central Florida. With winds off the Gulf, it was in the low 60s in the Tampa area.

To give you an idea of the power of this cool air mass, it was even 55 degrees at 7 a.m. in Santa Clara, the capital city of the Villa Clara Province in Cuba, and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was reporting low 60s.

CFL temps
(Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

After topping out at 95 degrees on Sunday, on Tuesday morning it was 46 in Immokalee, in interior Collier County.

The cold front brought pretty spectacular weather across the Florida peninsula on Monday, with relative humidity levels below 30 percent in Miami and temperatures pushing close to 80.

But the storm system caused massive misery in the Great Lakes and Northeast as it pushed through with blizzard conditions and 50 mph wind gusts. Green Bay, Wisconsin got hammered with 2 feet of snow through Monday,. High temperatures around the state barely reached 30 degrees, record cold highs that had been on the books since the 1920s.

The National Weather Service in Green Bay called it a “once in a lifetime snowstorm” that produced 16-foot waves on Lake Michigan.

Some of the snowfall totals beat records that had been around since the turn of the century — not the 21st century, but the days when farmers plowed their fields behind a team of horses.

It was still snowing in Cleveland and Buffalo Tuesday morning, and in Buffalo snow is in the forecast every day this week through Friday.

Even in the mid-Atlantic, there were freeze watches posted for Wednesday morning. In Baltimore, Saturday’s high of 86 gave way to a Sunday low of 43.

Record rainfall and record lows were set in the New York City area. Friday’s high in Central Park was 82 — Sunday’s low was 38.

“The first half of April has been the coldest ever observed in most locations from eastern Montana to northern Michigan,” meteorologist Bob Henson reported at Weather Underground.


TORNADO REPORT: Sunday night’s tornado in Islamorada and Tarvernier caused both tree and structural damage to buildings, the National Weather Service in Key West said in an analysis published late Monday. They determined it was an EF-1 tornado that started out as a waterspout and had peak winds of between 90-100 mph. It was 50 yards wide.

The tornado damaged a church and the entry gate to a home, split trees and uprooted old growth mahogany trees. It later weakened but continued to damage tree limbs and fences as it completed its track, which was just under a mile.


CHANGES AT THE NHC: With record lows around the country and cool mornings in Florida, it’s easy to forget that the start of the 2018 hurricane season is just 44 days away. The National Hurricane Center announced changes to its forecast products, including a move to discuss a hurricane’s track and intensity through 72 hours — instead of 48 — in public advisories.

The graphics used by forecasters last year showing earliest arrival of tropical storm winds was experimental last year but will become operational this year.

“The size of the tropical cyclone track forecast error cone for the Atlantic basin will be smaller this year, but a little larger at the longer forecast times in the East Pacific,” the NHC said. “The cone represents the probable track of the center of a tropical cyclone, and is formed by enclosing the area swept out by a set of imaginary circles placed along the forecast track.”


Florida storm wrap-up: Tornadoes, record-high winds, heavy rain

Sunday’s cold front and associated storms lived up to their billing around the Florida peninsula as they dumped torrential rain, spawned tornadoes and generated record-strong winds.

Jacksonville recorded a wind gust of 51 mph at 3:05 p.m., breaking a record for the date, as did Gainesville, with a gust of 47 mph at 2:01 p.m.

Peak winds
(Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

Vero Beach Municipal Airport reported a peak wind gust of 62 mph and Orlando International Airport reported a gust of 48 mph.

Winds gusted over 40 mph in South Florida. A gust of 68 mph was reported in Pahokee at 11:30 p.m., according to the National Weather Service in Miami. An observer on the west side of Lake Okeechobee reported a gust of 49 mph.

On the West Coast, the maximum gust in Tampa was 33 mph.

There were 257 high wind reports (sustained winds over 40 mph) in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Three tornadoes were reported in Florida Sunday by the Storm Prediction Center, one north of Tampa on the West Coast, one in the Upper Keys and one on the Florida-Georgia state line north of Jacksonville.

Residents in Islamorada reported “doors ripped off their hinges,” the Miami Herald reported, quoting the National Weather Service in Key West.

In addition to the tornado, the Middle- and Upper-Keys were hardest hit with rainfall. Marathon checked in with 2.5 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service in Key West, and Key Largo measured 2.49 inches, according to an observer with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network.

Other rainfall totals around the state: Tallahassee, 1.39 inches (official); 1.73 inches northwest of the city, according to CoCoRaHS.

South Florida: West Palm Beach, 1.22 inches; Miami, 0.22 of an inch; Fort Lauderdale, 0.31;and Naples, 0.51. Unofficial: Loxahatchee, 1.55 inches and Homestead, 0.44,

East Central: Vero Beach, 1.41 inches; 1.64 inches reported to CoCoRaHS; Orlando, 0.33; and Fort Pierce, 0.57.

West Coast: Pinellas County, 1.46 inches (CoCoRaHS), Tampa (official) 0.48; St. Petersburg, 1.11; and Fort Myers, 0.59

North Florida: Jacksonville, 1 inch and Gainesville, 0.83.


MORE WET WEATHER? Above normal precipitation is in the forecast for Florida through the end of April and into the first week of May, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says. This four-week outlook was issued on Friday. (Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

Cold front forecast to drive Florida lows into 40s


(Image credit: NOAA/ SPC)

NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center put most of Central and South Florida into the Marginal Risk category for severe weather on Sunday, while North Florida remained in the higher Slight Risk category.

The Carolinas were at highest risk, with an “Enhanced Risk” also covering northeastern Georgia. The analysis was issued by the SPC at 8 a.m.; it’s been shifting over the last couple of days.

The cold front appeared formidable on Gulf of Mexico satellite imagery. It should clear most of the peninsula by early Monday morning, the National Weather Service said.

Continental US - Clean Longwave Window - IR

(Image credit: NOAA)

In South Florida, southerly winds brought in unusually warm air Saturday night and Sunday morning, potentially setting new record warm lows on the East Coast.

Fort Lauderdale’s apparent low was a muggy 79, which would set a record; Miami’s low was 78, which would also set a record; and the apparent low in West Palm Beach was 76, which would tie the record warm minimum mark set in 2015.

“The big caveat is that values are likely to fall this evening in convection and (frontal passage) likely before midnight,” NWS forecasters in Miami said early Sunday morning.

NEXT UP: Unusually cool morning lows are forecast on Tuesday. The forecast low in West Palm Beach is 58 — the record low for the date is 50. Lows west of Lake Okeechobee are expected to be in the 40s.

The forecast low in Tampa on Tuesday morning is 54; Orlando, 52; Gainesville, 45; Jacksonville, 48; Lake City, 43.


THE WEST MOVES EAST: Arid sections of the U.S. are shifting east, a new study by Columbia University says.

For 140 years, the 100th meridian was considered to be the dividing line between dry areas of the western U.S. and humid areas of the East.

“The line appears to be slowly moving eastward, due to climate change,” Columbia announced in a news release. “They say it will almost certainly continue shifting in coming decades, expanding the arid climate of the western plains into what we think of as the Midwest. The implications for farming and other pursuits could be huge.”

The line, which represents a dramatic cutoff with thick heavy grasses and flowers on the east side and cactus and yucca plants on the west side, once rode up through Central Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle and central parts of Nebraska and the Dakotas. It now goes up through East Texas and extends north to the Minnesota state line.

“As drying progresses, farms further and further east will have to consolidate and become larger in order to remain viable,” the university says. “Unless farmers turn to irrigation or otherwise adapt, they will have to turn from corn to wheat or some other more suitable crop. Large expanses of cropland may fail altogether, and have to be converted to western-style grazing range. Water supplies could become a problem for urban areas.”

Weekend weather extremes in focus

Florida may see wet end to April, NOAA says

Severe weather potential

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

SATURDAY PM UPDATE: NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has moved all of the Florida peninsula — including South Florida — into the Slight Risk category for severe weather on Sunday. “Slight” is a step up from “Marginal,” which had been in the forecast for South Florida previously.

The National Weather Service in Miami said at 4 p.m. Saturday: “Given the instability expected to be in place, the low level jet, and modest shear, conditions remain favorable for strong to severe thunderstorm development.

“This threat may occur in two phases: with the potential for isolated activity to develop during the afternoon hours along the east coast with a diffuse sea breeze, then with the front itself as a strong squall line is expected to continue through the Gulf and into South Florida between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“Any more discrete/isolated activity ahead of the front will carry a greater risk for rotating storms and isolated tornadoes, with the threat likely to translate to more damaging winds as the front and squall move through.”


Bridge run

A CLASSIC IN THE KEYS: It’s been an almost ideal spring for outdoor activities in Florida, with some cooler temperatures and breezy conditions. On Saturday, the 7 Mile Bridge Run was held under pretty close to ideal weather — temps in the 70s with just a 10 percent chance of rain.  The event is held each year by the Marathon Runner’s Club to mark the opening of the bridge in 1982. It’s billed as the only run completely surrounded by water from start to finish. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)


MID-APRIL MADNESS IN THE PLAINS: Parts of South Dakota and Minnesota were under a Blizzard Warning Saturday. Forecasters were expecting up to a foot of snow with winds gusting to 55 mph and whiteout conditions. “Damage to trees and power lines is likely,” National Weather Service forecasters said.

“Do not travel. If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle.”

The blizzard is part of the same “spring” system that will tear across the U.S. this weekend, bringing potentially severe weather to the Southeast and — possibly — the Florida peninsula on Sunday.

NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center is suggesting that most of the Florida peninsula could get between three-quarters of an inch to an inch, with higher amounts in North Florida and the panhandle.

Meanwhile, parts of the Great Lakes area are under a Winter Storm Watch, including Wisconsin north of Milwaukee, Michigan north of Detroit, and Upstate New York into Vermont.

Buffalo is expecting an ice storm beginning Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, with ice accumulations of a half-inch. “Power outages and tree damage are likely due to the strong winds and ice,” forecasters in Buffalo said. “Travel will be difficult due to ice-covered surfaces and downed tree limbs and power lines.”

Other sections of western New York are under a Flood Watch through Tuesday afternoon for up to 2.5 inches of rain.


(Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

In a change from previous long-range forecasts, NOAA is now forecasting a wet end to April and a soggy start to May in the Florida peninsula.

Perhaps it will all lead up to an early start to the rainy season, which in South Florida usually kicked off around May 20.

UPDATE: Florida peninsula braces for severe weather on Sunday

Severe storm potential

Here’s the updated map for severe weather potential Sunday over the Florida peninsula. The highest risk runs north of a line from around Fort Myers over to the Treasure Coast on the Atlantic side. as a cold front slides across the state. National Weather Service forecasters are warning of heavy rain, strong winds, and isolated tornadoes. “Small hail cannot be ruled out either,” forecasters in Miami said in an analysis sent to media outlets Friday. Tuesday morning forecast lows have been ratcheted down, with lows near 60 in some parts of coastal South Florida. Lows could reach the 40s in the interior. The forecast low in Gainesville on Tuesday morning is 46. (Image credit: NWS-TampaBay)


RISING WATER TEMPS THREATEN AQUACULTURE: Ocean “heat waves” have increased 54 percent since the 1920s and last 17 percent longer, a new study published in the journal Nature Communications says.

An ocean heat wave is defined as a period during which sea surface are unusually warm for at least five days in a row.

The biggest impact may be on coral reefs, since unusually warm water temperatures trigger bleaching events. There have been five times more bleaching events  over the past few years than there were in the 1980s.

The high temperatures may also have a negative impact on the seafood industry as a result of declines in fish species, researchers said.

Read details about the phenomenon in the April 11 Scientific American.