First 90-degree day of the year in Fort Myers; a place where it rains iron

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MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF IRON CHIPS: This is what precipitation looks like on WASP-76b. (Image credit: Alchemist-hp via Wikimedia CommonsAlchemist-hp via Wikimedia Commons). 

A HARD RAIN IS GONNA FALL: You’ve heard about places where it rains cats and dogs. Here’s another spot in the universe where an umbrella won’t do you much good — a planet where it rains iron.

Researchers at the European Southern Observatory have located the planet — via its powerful telescope in northern Chile — where daytime temperatures reach 2400 degrees Celsius, hot enough to vaporize metal. Winds carry iron vapor to the night side of the planet where it condenses into droplets of iron.

“One could say that this planet gets rainy in the evening, except it rains iron,” says David Ehrenreich, a professor who led the study at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. The planet, WASP-76b, is 640 light years from Earth in the constellation of Pisces.

The main feature controlling WASP-76b’s weather is that the planet spins so slowly that one side is always facing its sun. But the side in perpetual darkness is no cool haven either — temperatures hover around 1500 degrees.

María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astrophysicist at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid explains: “The observations show that iron vapor is abundant in the atmosphere of the hot day side of WASP-76b. A fraction of this iron is injected into the night side owing to the planet’s rotation and atmospheric winds. There, the iron encounters much cooler environments, condenses and rains down.”

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

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SFL fog

Fog took control of the South Florida interior once again on Sunday morning. The East Coast was clear. (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

RECORD WATCH: Fort Myers posted a record high on Saturday of 90, which beat the old record high of 88 set in 2003. It was also the first 90-degree temperature in Fort Myers since November 8.

It was also 90 in Brooksville.

Leesburg tied a record high with 88, matching a mark set in 1973.

Record warm minimum temperatures were tied in Fort Lauderdale (74) and West Palm Beach (75).

Near-record heat arrives; earliest spring since 1896

ECFL highs

(Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

The heat is on!

Widespread 90s return to the Everglades today — including parts of interior Central Florida — and some temperature records may be challenged through Thursday before the next cold front arrives.

With south-southwest winds on Thursday, the metro areas of southeastern Florida may soar into the low- to mid-90s, National Weather Service forecasters in Miami said in their forecast discussion.

The weekend will be dominated by “a continental post-frontal air mass” with northerly winds, but another warm-up starts as the new week begins, and highs should be pushing 80 again by mid-week. Saturday highs will be cool, in the 60s and 70s, forecasters said.

Interestingly, Sunday’s post-cold-front highs in Florida may be close to highs in the Plains States. Temperatures are expected to approach 70 even in northern Nebraska, for example.

We’ve been in the same pattern now for several weeks, with mid-week warm-ups driving temperatures into the 80s and 90s, followed by weekend cold fronts that remind us we’re still in the winter season. But according to the GFS, that pattern may break the weekend of the 14th and 15th.

The Climate Prediction Center is calling for close to normal temperatures in Florida through March 17.

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PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL WAS RIGHT: About having an early spring, that is. Astronomical spring starts two weeks from Thursday on March 19 at 11:50 p.m. — the earliest start to spring in 124 years, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. The new season most commonly begins on March 21, and the last time it was this early was in 1896.

The equinox is, of course, the time at which the sun crosses the equator on its march trip (spring) or south (fall), but times vary because the Earth’s orbit around the sun is elliptical and changes slightly due to the influence of gravity from other planets. Also, its orientation changes slightly during its annual journey around the sun.

Because of these factors, the number of days in each season are unequal, and they also vary. Summer is the longest at 93.641 days while winter is the shortest at 88.994 days.

“With its seasonal duration continuing to decrease, it is expected to attain its minimum value — 88.71 days — by about the year 3500,” the Almanac says.

“Spring is currently being reduced by approximately one minute per year and winter by about one-half a minute per year. Summer is gaining the minute lost from spring, and autumn is gaining the half a minute lost from winter.”

Low humidity and gusty winds combine for weekend fire threat

Leap Day records

Weather records for February 29 tend to stick around for a long time, since it’s a date that only occurs every four years. Record lows in Orlando and Fort Pierce go back to 1908. (Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

SATURDAY UPDATE: A Red Flag Warning was posted for fire weather conditions in parts of East-Central Florida Saturday, due to strong winds and low humidity in the 25-30 percent range.

“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” the National Weather Service in Melbourne said.

The warning was in effect from noon to 7 p.m. for Volusia, Orange, and Seminole counties.

Relative humidity in both Orlando and Miami bottomed out at 29 percent on Friday; 26 percent in Gainesville and 24 percent in Jacksonville. Midday humidity in Tampa was 47 percent.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, 18 wildfire “incidents” were reported around the state on Saturday covering 628.2 acres, but all of the fires were listed as contained.

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Fire weather alert

FIRE ALERT: Very low humidity levels will produce “dangerous fire weather conditions” Friday and Saturday, the National Weather Service in Miami says. “Avoid outdoor burning and don’t throw cigarettes from vehicles,” forecasters said. (I would add, and don’t throw cigarettes from vehicles when it’s raining either.) (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

ORIGINAL POST: Temperatures that would be cool even for January slapped Florida residents this morning — just two days before the start of meteorological spring. Only the Lower Keys were clinging to the 60-degree mark; 40s were the rule inland around South Florida.

A Weather Underground observer in East Lehigh Acres outside of Fort Myers reported a wintry low of 35 degrees.

In Hendry County, LaBelle bottomed out at 37, but it was closer to 50 right along the Gulf Coast in the Naples-Fort Myers area.

The upper 30s to low 40s stretched all the way up into Central Florida, and north of Orlando there were some spots at or just above freezing, including 33 in Ocala. An observer in Georgetown northeast of Ocala reported a low of 31 degrees. The low was 29 in Alachua, north of Gainesville.

The cold spot was in the crossroads community of O’Brien, southwest of Lake City, where it was 27 degrees at 7 a.m. There were also a few upper 20s in the panhandle.

The low in Miami was officially 51, a far cry from the record low of 37 set in 1971.

Look for similar lows Saturday morning on that once-in-every-four-years day — February 29 — as well as chilly lows on Sunday before winds swing around to the east and a warm-up begins.

By Wednesday, temperatures should be back up into the 80s over much of the peninsula. Another cold front is forecast to roll through on Thursday, but forecasters said the air associated with it will be Pacific in origin, so not as cool as what we’re seeing this weekend.

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HEAVY-DUTY DISCOVERY: Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have determined that a planet 124 light years away has water vapor in its atmosphere, raising the possibility that life exists. It’s orbit is in that sweet spot — not too far from its host star and not too close.

The only problem is that the planet, tagged K2-18B, has a mass 8.6 times the mass of Earth. That means if you weigh 150 pounds on Earth, you’d weigh 1,290 pounds on K2-18B.

So if life does in fact exist there, doctors are probably hounding their patients all the time to lose weight. On the other hand, observations have led researchers to believe that the planet could be “an ocean world, with liquid water below the atmosphere at pressures and temperatures similar to those found in Earth’s oceans.”

“Water vapor has been detected in the atmospheres of a number of exoplanets but, even if the planet is in the habitable zone, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are habitable conditions on the surface,” cautioned lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.

Forecasters see cool start to March; meteor smacks Dominican Republic

Forecast rainfall

The cold front that eventually makes it through South Florida on Wednesday and Thursday is expected to stall over North Florida as early as Monday, delivering some heavy rainfall to the area. (Image credit: NWS-Jacksonville)

SUNDAY UPDATE: Another round of heavy rain showers hit Palm Beach County’s coast Saturday night, leading to the cancellation of the Houston Astros/ Washington Nationals first spring training game in West Palm Beach, a game that was billed as a World Series rematch for the teams.

The teams were scheduled to meet Sunday afternoon. Rain chances were forecast to diminish throughout the day. Saturday night’s game was canceled after two innings.

Although the rain wasn’t as heavy as Friday night’s round of showers, a CoCoRaHS observer in Boynton Beach, south of West Palm, reported 0.93 of an inch in his backyard bucket. Parts of West Palm Beach received more than half an inch.

Coastal Broward County picked up around a quarter of an inch, and a few hundredths of an inch fell on the Treasure Coast. There were also some light showers in the Upper Keys.

Temperatures rebound into the 80s through Wednesday, after which a potent cold front is forecast to drive overnight temperatures down into the 40s, even in parts of coastal South Florida, with highs only in the 60s through the early part of next weekend. That’s around 10-plus degrees below normal for this time of the year.

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Forecast for the first week of March. (Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

ORIGINAL POST: Go figure. Meteorological winter ends next Saturday, and December 1 – February 29 is almost certain to go into the books with well above normal temperatures for the season. But just as spring gets ready to launch, a shot of Arctic air is poised to give Florida a January-type chill.

“Confidence is building that a chillier pattern may emerge behind the front late in the week,” National Weather Service forecasters in Miami said in their Saturday morning forecast discussion.

Friday morning lows/ Friday afternoon forecast highs: Miami, 53 and 67; Orlando, 42 and 60; Tampa, 44 and 62; Jacksonville, 37 and 60.

Forecast for Sunday, March 1: Miami barely makes 70; Orlando stays in the 60s on Sunday and doesn’t make 72 until Monday; ditto for Tampa, which makes 73 on Monday, the second day of March. (Weather Underground forecasts)

Ultra-long-term, AccuWeather is calling for below normal temperatures through most of March. And, as mentioned yesterday, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting above normal precipitation in Florida during March.

The new eight- to 14-day forecast issued by NOAA Friday calls for only two states to have below normal temperatures through the first week of March — Florida and Alaska.

The reaction of many Florida residents will be, well, enjoy the cool temps while you can because some serious heat can’t be too far away. But tourists and spring breakers who are beach-bound in March might be a little disappointed.

However, the pattern could change later in the month, as indicated by the CPC’s four-week forecast, which was also issued Friday. That contradicts the long-range AccuWeather forecast, calling for above normal temperatures in Florida from March 7-20.

RAINFALL REPORT: Most of the U.S. was dry Friday, the one exception being Florida’s East Coast and particularly, the southeast coast. The action was focused on coastal Palm Beach County, where 1.20 inches of rain was reported through 7 a.m. Saturday on Singer Island, according to CoCoRaHS.

An observer in the Boca Raton area reported 1.06 inches; and an observer in Deerfield Beach, Broward County, reported 1.16 inches.

Miami-Dade had just a few sprinkles, while observers on the Treasure Coast reported a few hundredths of an inch.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE: A “small” space rock crashed into the atmosphere above the Dominican Republic during the early morning hours on Friday, Spaceweather.com reported.

“The fireball was so bright, many cameras recorded the flash,” science writer Tony Phillips said. A webcam in the U.S. Virgin Islands captured the event.

“An all-sky camera operated by the Sociedad de Astronomia del Caribe in Puerto Rico also saw it.”

Locals may be out looking for meteorites this weekend.

Earth saved as giant space rock whizzes harmlessly past planet

Today was rumored to be the end of the world as we know it. But it turned out to be no biggie after a space rock called 2002 PZ39 sped past Earth at a (relatively) safe distance of 3.6 million miles at 6:05 a.m.

The non-event had been built up on social media as a potential planet killer, since the asteroid is 3,250 feet long, larger than the tallest skyscraper in the world.

One media outlet said that “the energy from its explosion would be enough to trigger a global nuclear winter that could last for years. The harsh environmental changes triggered by the asteroid’s impact could lead to the mass extinction of different species.”

But on Spaceweather.com, science writer Tony Phillips said: “There was never any danger. NASA has been tracking the 0.5 km asteroid for 17 years and long ago determined that a collision would not happen.”

Phillips posted a video taken via telescope of 2002 PZ39 sailing across the early morning sky. In celestial terms, 3.6 million miles is a close encounter, but it’s 15 times the distance to the moon.

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RECORD WATCH: Naples tied a record warm low Friday with 70 degrees. The record was originally set in 1948. In the Keys, Marathon broke a record warm low with 77, beating the old record of 75 set in 2001.

Wild weather anniversary for South Florida; space rock lights up Puerto Rico

SFL snow anniversary

FROST AND FLAKES: Today is the 43rd anniversary of snow in South Florida, which left a dusting on cars on January 19, 1977 from West Palm Beach to as far south as Homestead. Freeport in the Bahamas received a mix of rain and snow. Some kids who had never seen snow reveled in it, but adults who had come to South Florida from cold climates to get away from that kind of thing were no doubt appalled. Not to mention that the cold snap caused $350 million in agricultural damage across the state. (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

TUMBLING TEMPS: No, nothing like 1977, not even close, but Tuesday and Wednesday morning will be the coolest weather of the week in Florida, according to the National Weather Service. Forecast lows for each morning: Miami, 59 and 51; Key West, 61 and 54; Orlando, 43 and 38; Tampa, 41 and 37; Jacksonville, 35 and 33; and Gainesville, 31 and 29.

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PUERTO RICO SHAKEN UP: Earthquakes have been plaguing the island, but residents were surprised by a different phenomenon on Friday as an asteroid exploded in the sky, apparently off the coast of San Juan. Observers said the space rock, several feet in length, left a fiery trail in the sky before it exploded in broad daylight, according to The New York Times.

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RECORD WATCH: Vero Beach set a new record warm low temperature Saturday with 69, beating the previous mark of 68 set in 1996. Melbourne tied a record warm low with 64.

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HOT CHOCOLATE WON’T BE ENOUGH: The 76,000 football fans at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City will be enjoying the AFC Championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans amid wind chills as low as zero this afternoon. The actual forecast high is 20, but temps will sink back into the teens late in the afternoon headed for a low of 8.

Much better weather is expected in Santa Clara, California for the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers game — the forecast high is 61.

Tampa smashes 73-year-old high temperature record; a birthday cake for NOAA

WCFL forecast temps

FALLING TEMPERATURES are on the docket for next week across the Florida peninsula. (Image credit: NWS-TampaBay)

RECORD WATCH: Tampa broke a record high Thursday that had been on the books for 73 years. It was 86, easily beating the old record of 83 set back in 1947. It was 83 in Sarasota, beating the previous mark of 82 also set in 1947.

Fort Myers tied a record high with 85, matching the record set in 1943. And on the other side of the peninsula, Vero Beach tied a record high with 83 degrees, a record originally set in 1989.

Sanford tied a record warm low with 65.

There’s now some question of how cold it might get next week, as least in South Florida. There are differences between the two main forecast models, NOAA’s GFS and the European (ECMWF), with the latter forming a low pressure system in the Atlantic that funnel more cold air down the peninsula, according to the National Weather Service. The GFS suggests winds could switch from northwesterly to easterly as early as Wednesday afternoon.

“Such large differences between potential outcomes lowers confidence in the temperature forecast for this time range and beyond as the amount of cold air advected southward will be greatly influenced by this feature which models continue to struggle to consistently resolve,” forecasters in Miami said in their Friday morning discussion.

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UPSWING: Today is the latest sunrise of the year — 7:10 a.m. in Palm Beach, the eastern-most spot on the Florida peninsula. Actually, it’s been stuck at 7:10 a.m. since January 7. But Saturday’s sunrise will be at 7:09 a.m. and the amount of daylight gained in the morning this time of the year accelerates into February. On January 31, sunrise is at 7:06 a.m.

Sunset in the evening, on the other hand, has been getting later since December 11, when it edged from 5:27 p.m. — the earliest sunset of the year — to 5:28 p.m. Today’s sunset is at 5:50 p.m. and it reaches 6 p.m. on January 30.

It’s not coincidental, of course, that normal/ average temperatures around the peninsula begin slowly inching up next week.

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Meteorologist Robert White, pictured writing a message in 1970 in newsletter NOAA Week, was the agency’s first administrator and served until 1977. (Image credit: NOAA)

LIGHT THE CANDLES: NOAA, the agency that oversees the National Weather Service as well as the National Hurricane Center, is marking its 50th birthday this year.

The agency has its roots in organizations that originated a century earlier with the Survey of the Coast in 1807 and the Weather Bureau and U.S. Fish Commission in the 1870s.

“Our nation’s oldest science agencies came together, as one, with a vision to protect and enrich life by better understanding our ocean and atmosphere,” said Cheryl Oliver, director of the NOAA Heritage program, which honors the legacy of NOAA through special events and exhibits across the country.

“Today, people depend on NOAA science and services every day, in our homes, on the coasts we love, in our daily commerce, in the seafood we eat and in our personal safety.”