Monday cold snap will be short-lived, forecasters say

long range forecast

(Image credit: NWS-Tallahassee)

The polar vortex is coming! The polar vortex is coming!

So says The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, which published a story Tuesday about an upcoming “severe and punishing winter weather pattern” that will likely result in snow and bitter cold for the eastern U.S. starting as early as next week and continuing into the middle of February.

Meteorologists are saying that the vortex “broke apart” around the first of the year, and that tends to send temperatures tumbling in the lower latitudes as the atmospheric flow adjusts.

The first blast of Arctic air is due to hit the Southeastern U.S. on Sunday and Monday, and some freezing temperatures are possible in North Florida and even on the Nature Coast north of Tampa.

However, National Weather Service forecasters said Wednesday that the cold snap will be “short-lived,” since the high pressure system responsible for the frigid outbreak will move quickly to the east, pulling mild air off the Atlantic and moderating temperatures around the Florida peninsula by Tuesday.

The upcoming weekend looks seasonably warm, ditto for the final weekend of the month, and it remains to be seen how cold temps will get in Florida after the next front rolls through after that.

Wednesday morning temperatures were nippy, but generally less than 10 degrees below normal. Apparent lows: West Palm Beach and Naples, 48; Miami, 53; Fort Lauderale, 51; 60 in Key West but in the 50s in the Middle and Upper Keys.

It was in the low 50s in Miami-Dade County; mid-40s on the southwest coast; low- to mid-40s in Central Florida; and 30s in North Florida and the panhandle.

Highs Saturday should be in the upper 70s in South Florida, the mid-70s in Central Florida and the low- to mid-70s in North Florida, forecasters said.

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SPACE: THE FINAL (WINE MAKING) FRONTIER: The country of Georgia, which lays claim to being the oldest wine making region on Earth, is making plans to open up shop on another planet — Mars. Scientists are trying to figure out which grapes would grow best in a controlled environment that would still involve harsh weather conditions and radiation bombardment.

The goal is to have a wine making system in place if SpaceX founder Elon Musk follows through on a plan to undertake a manned mission to the planet in 2024.

The early conclusion is that white wine would work best on Mars. “Whites tend to be more resistant to viruses,” Levan Ujmajuridze, director of Georgia’s vineyard Laboratory, told The Washington Post. “So, I’d imagine they’ll do well against radiation, too. Their skin could reflect it.”

Which means that the first Martian settlers will have to live on chicken and fish in order to avoid committing a dining faux pas.

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One more beach day before new cold front smacks down Florida temps

Florida temperatures were nudged back into the 80s on Saturday by sunshine and warm winds off the Atlantic, and another mild beach day was on tap for Sunday.

Naples reached 81 and Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Pompano Beach and Punta Gorda all reached 80.

It was 82 at Immokalee and 83 at Zoo Miami, but the nation’s high was in McAllen, Texas — 86 degrees. The nation’s low on Saturday was in Berlin, New Hampshire: – 19 degrees.

A cold front was forecast by the National Weather Service to slide down the Florida peninsula Sunday night, bringing slightly below normal temperatures through the work week.

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CLOSE SHAVE: An asteroid came within 9,000 miles of Earth last Tuesday, January 8 — but it wasn’t discovered by scientists until nine hours after it had passed. Luckily, it was a small space rock — up to 6.8 feet in diameter — so it probably wouldn’t have caused damage if it had collided with the atmosphere. It was dubbed Asteroid 2019 AS5.

“The asteroid was closer to our planet than many satellites,” science writer Tony Phillips said on Spaceweather.com.

“If the 1 to 2 meter-wide space rock had hit Earth (and it almost did) it would have caused a brilliant fireball in the atmosphere with sonic booms and scattered meteorites on the ground–but no serious damage.”

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ANOTHER LOOK AT THE CRYSTAL BALL: The Climate Prediction Center releases its long-range forecast for the rest of the winter and early spring on Thursday. Long-range models continue to call for a cold end of January and early February in the eastern U.S., including Florida.

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hurricane irma

Hurricane Irma approaches the Florida Keys on September 10, 2017. (Credit: NOAA)

WEATHER AWARENESS: Florida gets its share of severe weather — not just hurricanes but tornadoes, flooding rains and beach and off-shore hazards such as rip currents. It is also the lightning capital of the world.

All these hazards will be discussed as the week progresses with the National Weather Service’s Florida Severe Weather Awareness Week. It kicks off Monday with information on lightning threats; Tuesday covers marine hazards; Wednesday will look at tornadoes and thunderstorms; Thursday’s topic will be hurricanes and flooding; and Friday will cover heat, cold and wildfires.

“Fortunately, 2018 was a relatively inactive year in South Florida as far as large, high impact weather hazards is concerned,” forecasters noted in a news release. “Nevertheless, even small-scale weather events such as local severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and rip currents occur every year, resulting in deaths, injuries, and property damage. Therefore, weather awareness and safety measure are always good to have in mind and put into practice.”

Kudos to the National Weather Service for sticking to the schedule and putting this out despite the shutdown.

30s expected in North Florida with weekend warm-up in forecast

7 day rainfall forecast

NO DROUGHT RELIEF: Look who’s expected to get skunked on precipitation over the next seven days — the Florida peninsula. The U.S. Drought Monitor releases its latest analysis on Thursday and it will be interesting to see if Moderate Drought conditions expand again. They already cover most of the southern and eastern portions of the Florida peninsula. Wednesday’s cold front was forecast to roll through with little or no rainfall. (Image credit: NOAA/ WPC)

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POST-COLD FRONT FORECAST LOWS AND HIGHS: Miami, 56 on Thursday morning, high 67; West Palm Beach, 54 and 66; Naples, 52 and 64; Sebring, 39 and 62; Tampa and Orlando, 43 and 60; Gainesville, 34 and 57; Daytona Beach, 38 and 56; Jacksonville, 37 and 55; Lake City, 33 and 55; Tallahassee, 32 and 53.

Temperatures moderate on Friday, but then another cold front knocks temperatures back on Sunday.

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LATEST SUNRISE: We’re in the period of January (and the season) with the latest sunrise, a phenomenon that will last through the rest of this week and most of next week. On Friday, January 18, the sun begins rising a minute earlier and the mornings continue to get longer until Daylight Saving Time intervenes on Sunday, March 10.

In Palm Beach, the eastern-most slice of the Florida peninsula, the sun rises this week at 7:10 a.m., the latest of the fall/ winter season.

Sunset has been getting later since December 5, when the sun set at 5:26 p.m. Sunset is at 5:44 p.m. on January 9 and it will set at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29.

This is also the week with the coolest normal high temperature in West Palm Beach — 74 degrees. That edged down from 75 on Sunday; it bounces back up to 75 on the same day as the sunrise turnaround — Friday, January 18. Normal highs continue to march higher until July 31 when they top out at 91.

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AND: At the same time all of these astronomical changes are taking place, residents of North America will be treated to a total lunar eclipse, which will occur on the night of January 20-21.

This is what the media is calling the Full Wolf Moon, which will “glow an eerie coppery hue high in the dark and crisp winter sky,” says the Farmers Almanac.

A lunar eclipse happens when the Earth passes between the sun and moon — blocking the light from the sun and casting a shadow over the lunar surface.

The peak of the event should occur on the 21st at 12:16 a.m. EST.

Naples scores nation’s high with 87; drought maintains grip on Florida East Coast

Florida had the nation’s high on Wednesday for the seventh day in a row with 87 degrees at Naples. That was also good enough to tie a record high for the date in Naples, matching a mark set 72 years ago in 1947.

It was 85 in Fort Myers, and upper 80s were common in inland Collier County.

The nation’s low on Wednesday was in Alamosa, Colorado: – 24 degrees.

WCFL temps

NO DRAMATIC COOL-DOWN: Temperatures across the peninsula should fall back to near normal after Saturday’s cold front rolls through. (Image credit: NWS-TampaBay)

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UPDATE: Drought conditions remained basically unchanged this week in Florida. A large swath of the Florida peninsula is under Moderate Drought, stretching from Brevard County on the East Coast to southern Miami-Dade. The area also encompasses Lake Okeechobee and parts of Collier, Hendry and Glades counties.

The rest of South Florida is Abnormally Dry, including most of Mainland Monroe, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor analysis.

“An active weather pattern brought various amounts of rain across most of the Southeast, with the greatest totals (4-8 inches, locally to 10) located in western sections (Alabama and western Georgia), while 0.5-3 inches was measured at most locations in Virginia, the Carolinas, eastern Georgia, and northern Florida,” NOAA’s David Miskus said.

“The rains missed central and southern Florida, and short-term (90-day) deficits of 3-6 inches have accumulated across southeastern sections of the state, with a few coastal Atlantic areas seeing 6-9 inch shortages.”

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APOLOGIES TO PINK FLOYD: With all of the hoopla over Ultima Thule, the mini-planet 4 billion miles away that was photographed by NASA’s New Horizons on New Year’s Day, it’s probably only fair to point out that China has achieved an astronomical feat of its own — landing on the far side of the moon.

That’s the side of the moon we never see on Earth, although it’s been photographed by satellites and the Apollo astronauts saw it when they made their trips back in the 1960s and ’70s.

“China’s rover will be the first to explore a far side crater, probing it with ground-penetrating radar and measuring its mineral composition with an infrared spectrometer,” NASA writer Tony Phillips said on Spaceweather.com. “If water is present, the rover might find it.”

People often mistakenly refer to the far side of the moon as the dark side of the moon, but the far side gets as much light as the side facing Earth. The misconception is the inevitable result of the 1973 Pink Floyd Album, which still gets plenty of air time here on Earth.

Jacksonville, Tallahassee notch record highs; 2019 begins with a report from the outer limits

Third warmest year Key West

SIZZLING IN THE KEYS: Key West had its third-warmest year on record in 2018, including its warmest fall, the National Weather Service reported. July, September and October were the warmest on record, and 62 daily temperature records were set or tied — with 17 record highs and an amazing 45 record warm lows. Data in Key West go all the way back to 1872, with annual temperature records since 1874. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

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The new year started off on the right foot Tuesday with 80s up and down the peninsula, and a pair of record highs in North Florida.

Jacksonville broke a record high with 83 degrees, beating the old mark of 81 set back in 1967. And it was 81 in Tallahassee, which broke the old record of 79 set in 1989.

The warmest temperature reported by the National Weather Service in its state summary was 85 degrees in Marathon. There were some upper 80s in interior areas of South Florida including a high of 88 in Immokalee.

The warmth is a result of high pressure that’s been hanging on over the state since late last week. It’s expected to remain in place, delivering three more days of beach weather, before a cold front sweeps through on Saturday. But nothing super-cold is on the horizon — temperatures should return to around normal for this time of the year, according to forecasters.

PQPFStormTotalQPFWeb1
Up to a quarter of an inch of rain may fall on South Florida’s East Coast as a cold front rolls through on Saturday, the National Weather Service says. (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

Don’t expect any drought-busting rains from the front. December rainfall totals in South Florida were well below normal — West Palm Beach had a monthly deficit of almost 2 inches. So, drought conditions are likely to hang on.

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NEWS FROM OUTSIDE THE NEIGHBORHOOD: The most interesting thing about NASA’s successful New Year’s Day fly by of the far-flung mini-planet Ultima Thule is not the new data on the object’s shape or composition, but the simple fact that the space agency is able to analyze something 4 billion miles away. For comparison purposes, the moon is about 239,000 miles from Earth, and Mars is about 140 million miles away. These are, relatively speaking, neighborhood stops compared to Ultima Thule.

The fly by occurred just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, but it took six hours for the initial data to reach Earth traveling at the speed of light, The New York Times says.

Soon-to-be-arriving photos should be interesting, since they were taken from a distance of just 2,200 miles by NASA’s spacecraft, New Horizons, which was launched back in 2006 on a mission to explore the solar system.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m really liking this 2019 thing so far,” delighted mission investigator S. Alan Stern said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Florida temps are nation’s warmest; 90s reported in Collier County

Dense Fog Advisory Sunday

Dense fog covered most of the Florida peninsula on Sunday morning. It lifted around 9 a.m. and another unusually warm day began. (Image credit: NWS-TampaBay)

Florida was the nation’s hot spot on Saturday, with Fort Myers and Marathon reporting highs of 87, the warmest anywhere in the U.S., according to NOAA.

Saturday’s coldest weather was in Gunnison, Colorado, where it was – 20 degrees.

There were some warmer unofficial temperatures in Florida. Immokalee in inland Collier County reached 90, and a weather station at Big Cypress National Preserve, also in Collier County, checked in with 92 degrees.

There were numerous upper 80s south and west of Lake Okeechobee.

The National Weather Service in Melbourne said highs in Vero Beach and Fort Pierce reached 85, which tied records in both cities.

The warm weather is expected to continue through Thursday, when a cold front is forecast to approach the state. Next weekend’s temperatures should be closer to normal for this time of the year, the National Weather Service says.

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Tampa rainfall December
(Image credit: NWS-TampaBay)

RAINFALL REPORT: Tallahassee reported another 0.14 of an inch Saturday following a 1.71-inch deluge on Friday. Friday’s heavy rain was the seventh of the month in excess of 1 inch.

Tallahassee has had two rain events in December over 3 inches. The city currently has a December rainfall total of 15.77 inches — 12.12 inches over normal.

Apalachicola has racked up 12.08 inches, 8.99 inches over average. Panama City has had almost 12 inches in December.

Rain was scant to non-existent over most of Florida on Saturday, but a CoCoRaHS observer in Panama City Beach reported 2.83 inches.

To the west in Okaloosa County, an observer in Niceville reported 2.34 inches.

Tampa is on track for the third-wettest December on record (see graph above).  Through Saturday, the city has had 8.69 inches of rain. Much of Florida’s East Coast, meanwhile, is in Moderate Drought.

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SKY SHOW: Nature has scheduled an astronomical extravaganza in January, and the media is out doing itself this time with another superlative handle: “Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse.”

This one will have all of the worth staying up late to see — a full moon at perigee, which is the closest the moon ever gets to Earth, and a total lunar eclipse, which will be visible in North and South America at 12:12 a.m. EST on January 21. It’s called a “Wolf Moon” because that’s what the full moon is called in January.

It’s called a blood moon because during a lunar eclipse, the moon takes on a reddish glow.

The year will also feature a total solar eclipse on July 2, but it will only be visible from parts of South America and the Pacific.

Florida ready to power up the AC; shutdown impacts extend to edge of the solar system

CFL highs

(Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

West Palm Beach recorded a wind gust of 39 mph Thursday — and Palm Beach reported a gust of 37 mph — while parts of Palm Beach County were socked with more than a half-inch of rain by storms that blew in off the Atlantic.

The heaviest rains remained well north of the state — parts of Georgia picked up more than 4 inches, according to CoCoRaHS.

Winds were forecast to wind down over the weekend as sunny and warm conditions take hold over most of Florida. You’ll likely be flipping the AC back on if you haven’t already — a South Florida Water Management District observation station near the Picayune Strand State Forest Campground east of Naples reported a high on Thursday of 87.

Highs are forecast to be well into the mid-80s in South Florida over the weekend; the low- to mid-80s in Central Florida; the low 80s in West-Central Florida and the mid- to upper-70s in North Florida. Even the panhandle is expected to be in the mid-70s through New Year’s Day.

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ANALYSIS, MR. SPOCK: There will be some fireworks on New Year’s Eve as 2019 dawns — astronomically speaking.

NASA’s New Horizons space craft will be flying past the most distant object in the known solar system: Minor planet number 485968, nicknamed Ultima Thule, a name it was given by the public that means “beyond the known world.” It is 4 billion miles from the sun and gets only about 0.05 percent of the light from the sun that the Earth receives.

Ultimate Thule is 24 miles wide, a little less than the distance from downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale.

New Horizons will make its closest pass, at around 2200 miles, at 12:33 a.m. EST on New Year’s Day.

“On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, New Horizons will map Ultima, determine how many moons it has and find out if it has rings or even an atmosphere,” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern tells Tony Phillips at Spaceweather.com.

“It will make other studies, too, such as measuring Ultima’s temperature and perhaps even its mass. In the space of one 72-hour period, Ultima will be transformed from a pinpoint of light — a dot in the distance — to a fully explored world. It should be breathtaking!”

Ultima Thule formed 4.6 billion years ago and is considered a “primitive planetary object,” which means it’s basically unchanged from when the solar system was formed. Phillips calls it “a time capsule, waiting to share its secrets about the genesis of Earth.” Craters are expected to give NASA a window into the composition of the mini-planet.

It’s interesting to note that the impacts of the government shutdown extend far beyond the U.S. to the very edge of the solar system.

The New Horizons website advises: “Should the federal government shutdown continue through New Horizons’ Ultima Thule flyby – and NASA TV, nasa.gov and other agency digital and social channels remain offline – the New Horizons mission will provide coverage of live mission activities on this website and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory YouTube channel.