North Florida drought conditions recede; new GFS gets high marks

Panhandle cold front

WARM, BUT DRY: The cold front that’s expected to make its way down the Florida peninsula, and stall out in Central Florida, was just moving into the Florida panhandle on Thursday morning. Not much cooler weather is expected after the cold front moves through, but drier air will arrive in areas to the north of the front. In Dothan, Alabama northwest of Tallahassee, humidity levels are forecast by Weather Underground to be as low as 30 percent on Thursday. But National Weather Service forecasters in Tallahassee added: “Even though it’s a cold front… highs will actually be warmer tomorrow than the last few days!” (Image credit: NWS-Tallahassee)

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DWINDLING DROUGHT: Drought conditions in Florida receded slightly this week and are now confined mostly to the northern tier of counties, from Nassau County in the northeast west into the Central Panhandle. Several counties in the Big Bend area swapped Moderate Drought for Abnormally Dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

There were actually few areas of drought in the U.S. this week. Outside of North Florida and coastal areas of Georgia up through North Carolina, the only areas on Thursday’s map were in extreme northern North Dakota; western New Mexico; and parts of Washington and the Northwest.

California is clear of drought, although the southwestern corner near San Diego is Abnormally Dry.

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‘MODEL-CANES’ ON THE WAY OUT? NOAA officials have high hopes for the new and improved GFS forecasting model they began using Wednesday, the Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere, or FV3. Will their confidence be justified?

Truth be told, the European model (ECMWF) always had a little more respect than the GFS in some forecasting circles — although the GFS performed well on occasion — but NOAA officials are hoping the upgrade changes all of that.

“The significant enhancements to the GFS, along with creating NOAA’s new Earth Prediction Innovation Center, are positioning the U.S. to reclaim international leadership in the global earth-system modeling community,” Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, said in an agency news release posted after a morning press conference.

An important question for people in Florida, Texas and the southeast coast is how the new model will fare during hurricane season. That wasn’t specifically addressed in the NOAA news release, but Matt Gray, a meteorologist for NBC2 based in Fort Myers, posted a blog on the topic Wednesday night.

“How will the new FV3 GFS do when the next hurricane comes? NOAA has tested it using data from storms over the past few seasons, so we have a pretty good idea,” he said.

The new FV3 will be better than the old GFS at forecasting intensity, he said. The old model tended to over-sell intensity, or keep storms stronger longer.

“The new GFS did a lot better with how intense Hurricane Florence was when it made landfall in North Carolina last year,” Gray said. “It’s just one of many examples where the new model did a lot better with storm strength.”

An attendant advantage to the new model is that since it’s better at forecasting strength, the FV3 may be better at avoiding what some weather watchers call “ghost storms,” or what Gray calls “model-canes.” These are tropical storms or hurricanes that pop up on model runs more than 10 days in advance, with no support from other models. The next day they may be dropped.

“Since the new GFS looks like it will be better at not strengthening tropical systems too much, that may also keep these ‘fake storms’ from showing up at all.”

Track accuracy looks about the same as the old GFS, Gray said.

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Hot times in Sarasota; rainfall reports needed in the Keys

CoCoRaHS Keys

KEYS COURTS COCORAHS OBSERVERS: The National Weather Service in Key West noted Wednesday that the citizen observation network turns 21 years old this month. It started in June, 1998 in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can find rainfall observations pretty much anywhere in the country, but they are scarce in the Florida Keys and Monroe County. The NWS Key West is soliciting people to sign up. “We could use your observations!” the office said Wednesday in a Facebook post. You can do so at http://www.cocorahs.org. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

Tuesday Florida rainfall reports from CoCoRaHS: Orange County, south of Winter Garden, 2.5 inches; western Jefferson County near Waukeena, 2.28 inches; Suwanee County near Live Oak, 2 inches; northeastern Nassau County, 1.70 inches; and western Putnam County, 1.67 inches.

Parts of Hillsborough County picked up around a half-inch, while totals were light in South Florida, except an observer west of Boynton Beach in Palm Beach County reported 0.78 of an inch.

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WHAT KIND OF FRONT WAS THAT? The National Weather Service in Miami said upper level troughing over the southeastern U.S., “along with its corresponding surface low, will depart toward the northeast through the latter portion of the week. In the wake of this departure, an attendant cold front will begin sliding down the Florida peninsula before stalling across Central Florida.”

This time of the year, a front is a cold front pretty much in name only. Thursday night’s forecast low in Gainesville, for example, is 69 … but Friday’s forecast high is 90. Thursday night’s low in Lake City, meanwhile, is expected to tumble all the way down to 66 degrees. Come to think of it, that sounds pretty nice.

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TROPICS WATCH: Wednesday morning’s run of the GFS shows a storm developing in the Caribbean June 28 and moving toward Belize or the Yucatan Peninsula. The GFS FV3, which becomes operational for NOAA this week, does not concur. The European model (ECMWF) is clear for the next 10 days and even the Canadian forecasting model (CMC) shows clear sailing through June 22.

The National Hurricane Center says no storm formation is expected through at least Monday.

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RECORD REPORT: Marathon had the state’s high temperature in Tuesday’s National Weather Service roundup with 96 — and yes, that was another record high for the date. Marathon’s low of 84 was also a record warm low.

The low in Sarasota was 80, which busted the old record warm low for June 11 of 79 set in 2007.

More heavy rain, possible storms, target Florida peninsula

Much of the Florida peninsula was hammered by heavy rainfall Monday, from the Ocala area in North-Central Florida to the Tampa area, east to the Treasure Coast and down into Palm Beach.

Reports of up to 2 inches were common around Tampa, especially points north. The National Weather Service reported 1.92 inches in Brooksville.

On the East Coast, parts of Central Palm Beach County picked up close to 3 inches, according to observers for the CoCoRaHS network.

More heavy rain — and possibly some severe storms as well — were in the forecast for the peninsula as a cold front slides south and another system moves in from the Gulf of Mexico.

Here’s what it looks like:

Continental US - Clean Longwave Window - IR

Tuesday morning’s Gulf of Mexico satellite snapshot showed heavy rain developing off the Florida coast. (Image credit: NOAA)

The National Weather Service in Miami warned of possible severe weather:

Storm risk

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

And here’s the big picture from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center:

day1otlk_1200

Much of the eastern side of the Florida peninsula was at “Marginal” — that’s Level 2 in Storm Prediction Center lingo — risk for severe weather, including heavy rain, gusty winds and possible hail. (Image credit: NOAA/ SPC)

South Florida rain totals so far this month are beginning to echo the wet and wild May of 2018, when Miami measured an incredible 16.59 inches of rain — more than 11 inches over normal.

As we near the mid-point in May this year, West Palm Beach has racked up 5.26 inches of rain, 4.01 above average for the month. Miami has received 4.58 inches of rain, 3 above average, and Fort Lauderdale is 2.14 inches above normal at 3.36 inches. Naples reports 4.01 inches through Monday, 2.96 inches on the plus side.

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RECORD WATCH: Miami set a record high on Monday with 94 degrees, breaking the old record of 93 set just two years ago in 2017. Fort Lauderdale reported a record warm low of 79, beating the previous record of 77 set in 2015.

In the Keys, Marathon topped out at 95, which broke a 25-year-old record high for May 13. The previous record for the date was 92, set in 1994. In addition, the low at Marathon was 80, which tied a record warm low for May 13, originally set in 2017.

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Liverpool palm

TROPICAL PARADISE?  I spent last week in the UK, with a few days in Liverpool, on England’s northwest coast. The weather was blustery, with temperatures in the 40s and of-and-on light rain. Quite a dreary scene, but I happened upon this rather healthy-looking palm tree in a downtown courtyard. There are a few palms struggling throughout this part of the UK, and in London, with more, I presume, on the southern coast. They can thank the Gulf Stream for their relatively mild climate, despite the fact that Liverpool is at 53.4 degrees north and London is at 51.5 degrees north. (Image credit: John Nelander)

Friday rains hammered Nature Coast, but most of Florida peninsula was dry

NFL humidity levels

Humidity levels on Saturday could sink as low as the upper teens in North Florida, according to the National Weather Service. (Image credit: NWS-Jacksonville)

Friday’s frontal passage was a non-event in Florida, despite NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center having put most of the peninsula at Level 1 risk for severe weather.

High winds did cause some damage in the Tallahassee area, with a wind gust of 69 mph reported and tree limbs blocking some roads.

The only tornado reports from the system were in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Nice, of course, to side-step the severe weather. But parts of South Florida have been building up rainfall deficits again, even though overall the state is in pretty good shape with April precipitation.

Fort Lauderdale, which remained high and dry Friday, now has a 1.49-inch deficit, and West Palm Beach, which also posted precipitation goose eggs, now has a 1.84-inch deficit. That’s with three days left to go in the month — and no rain in sight. Naples has a 1.28-inch deficit.

Miami and Key West have slight rainfall surpluses, as does Fort Pierce.

In East-Central Florida, Daytona Beach nears the end of April with a hefty 1.74 inch surplus, although Orlando has a 0.92 of an inch shortfall.

Tampa had 0.17 of an inch of rain Friday and has a 0.83 of an inch surplus. Brooksville has a 1.14 inch surplus.

Jacksonville and Gainesville have surpluses; Gainesville reported 0.43 of an inch of rain Friday.

April rainfall surpluses surpluses are the rule in panhandle as well.

According to the CoCoRaHS observation network, Florida’s heaviest rainfall on Friday was focused on the Nature Coast, with one observer in Citrus County, near Crystal River, reporting 1.55 inches.

A dry week is on the way with another weather system possible by Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

North-Central Florida temperatures sank as low as the low 50s on Saturday morning with dew points in the low 50s as well. As the day wears on, humidity levels should plunge with all the dry air around, particularly in inland locations.

RECORD WATCH: In the Keys, Marathon’s high temperature Friday was a steamy 94 degrees, which tied a record high for April 26. The record was originally set in 2015.

Dry weather, warming trend in Florida’s weekend forecast

CFL rainfall

(Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

Some heavy weather was across the Nature Coast Friday morning, but the line of storms associated with the latest cold front was expected to fizzle as it sagged into Central Florida — and South Florida by Friday night.

Parts of the panhandle picked up more than an inch of rain overnight, much needed since the western counties of the panhandle have been in Moderate Drought for the past few weeks. Thursday’s report by the U.S. Drought Monitor had drought conditions continuing in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Holmes counties.

The entire Florida panhandle is Abnormally Dry, according to analysts. On the peninsula, the only areas of concern are Indian River and Brevard counties, where Abnormally Dry conditions also exist.

There was one exception to the fizzling rain chances on the East Coast: The National Weather Service said that with prevailing southwest winds ahead of the front, and an East Coast sea breeze developing, convection that does form could get trapped in coastal areas.

“This could act as a convective focus today, particularly in the afternoon, for storms to develop with the primary threats being strong winds, locally heavy rainfall, and lightning,” forecasters in Miami said.

Passage of the front brings drier air, but this is a cold front in name only. Forecasters at the NWS office in Melbourne said the front “will leave no evidence of cooler temperatures this weekend, with above normal highs continuing through the beginning of May.

“Afternoon temps expected to reach the low to mid 80s along the coast, with highs cruising toward 90 degrees across the interior,” they said. “Overnight lows exhibit a warming trend through the period, starting in the mid 60s this weekend and ending up in the low 70s by late next week.”

Long-range forecasts from the Climate Prediction Center show Florida — and most of the southeastern U.S. — awash in red, indicating above normal heat through at least May 14. Precipitation is also forecast to be above normal in Florida.

The rainy season in South Florida officially begins May 15.

But the new air mass moving in for the weekend is expected to be bone dry, particularly in North Florida, where humidity levels are forecast to be in the 20 percent range. In some areas northwest of Jacksonville, humidity may even dip into the teens.

JAX forecast

(Image credit: NWS-Jacksonville)

Florida braces for another round of storms; X-rays for air travelers

Panhandle storms
Storms are projected to sweep across the panhandle Thursday night, and then impact much of the Florida peninsula on Friday. However, on Thursday afternoon the Storm Prediction Center took South Florida out of the Level 1 risk area. (Image credits: NWS-Tallahassee, above; NOAA/ SPC, below)

day2otlk_1730The Florida Panhandle is under a Marginal and Slight (Level 1 & 2) risk for severe weather Thursday night, and a Marginal risk covers most of the Florida peninsula on Friday.

The trigger will be a cold front that moves across the panhandle from west to east late Thursday night and then down the peninsula on Friday. The setup is similar to last week’s event, although this system may not pack quite as much punch, according to forecasters in Miami and Melbourne.

But National Weather Service forecasters in Tallahassee, which is included in the Level 2 risk area said: “Favorable instability, shear, and lapse rates favor a strong to damaging wind threat with an isolated tornado or two possible.”

Meteorologists in Melbourne and Miami are less impressed. “It`s hard to see the premise for strong, let alone severe [thunderstorms] in a setup such as this,” they said in the Melbourne Thursday weather discussion. “Model-advertised probabilities for both precip and [thunderstorms] continue to decrease, and mesoscale model guidance is even less impressed, showing a dissipating band of showers and a few [thunderstorms] breaking apart as it crosses” East-Central Florida.

Forecasters in Miami say there is a “non-zero chance” of some severe thunderstorms Friday. They put rain chances at around 20 percent for Friday and Friday night.

However, they added: “The forecast for Friday does have some complicating factors as many guidance members do resolve a weakening front pushing through the area. Some members of guidance attempt to develop a surface low/trough feature along the east coast, possibly due to the initiation of a sea breeze circulation, ahead of the frontal passage which could provide some additional support to convection.

“The forecast evolution over the coming couple of days will be worth keeping tabs on!”

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THEY COME FROM OUTER SPACE: Cosmic rays are about to pepper the Earth at levels rarely seen over the past six decades. They are already just below levels recorded in 2009, which were “never before seen during the Space Age,” science writer Tony Phillips said on his blog Spaceweather.com on Thursday.

“What’s going on? The answer is ‘Solar Minimum.’ During the low phase of the 11-year solar cycle, the sun’s magnetic field and solar wind weaken. Cosmic rays find it easier to penetrate the inner solar system. In 2009, the sun experienced the deepest solar minimum in a century. Cosmic rays reaching Earth naturally surged.

“Ten years later, solar minimum is back with renewed weakening of the sun’s magnetic field and the solar wind. Again, it’s a ‘perfect storm.'”

The intense bombardment will impact air travelers, who will be dosed with “the whole body equivalent of a dental X-ray,” Philips said. International travelers will get even higher doses.

New weekend front forecast to stall over South Florida; rain chances may linger

Another round of rain could soak the Florida peninsula this weekend — but there doesn’t appear to be the kind of severe weather threat that accompanied last Friday’s potent frontal system.

This week’s edition is forecast — at least for now — to roll down the peninsula as a very weak cold front that won’t actually pack much cool air, according to the National Weather Service. It looks like the system will impact North and Central Florida Friday before settling somewhere over South Florida on Saturday.

“The boundary lingers across the region for much of the weekend allowing rain chances and an unsettled weather pattern to continue,” National Weather Service forecasters in Miami said Tuesday.

Southerly winds ahead of the front will push heat and humidity into the peninsula with highs close to 90.

NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center seems fairly ho-hum about potential rainfall totals in Florida, with highest amounts projected across the North-Central peninsula and East-Central areas on or near the Treasure Coast. Some of the heavier rain may clip the northern Gulf Coast and panhandle around Apalachicola, according to Tuesday’s forecasts.

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Outlook-category-descriptions

The risk categories issued by the Storm Prediction Center can be a little confusing. On a scale from 0-5, 4 is the second-highest risk category, yet it’s labeled “Moderate.” Still, the SPC provides a valuable service in terms of warning people that severe weather may be headed their way.  (Image credit: NOAA/ SPC)

INSIDE LOOK: And speaking of last Friday’s severe weather, the New York Times on Sunday offered an in-depth story about NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, which is based in Norman, Oklahoma. A reporter and a photographer spent an entire day with the SPC staff as they analyzed spring weather trends across the country, issuing warnings where appropriate.

“Their forecasts are getting more precise, and more vital,” writes Alan Blinder, an Atlanta-based reporter for the Times. “Every tornado or severe thunderstorm watch in the continental United States — 450 last year alone — starts at the center in Norman, Okla. So far this year, forecasters have issued more than 90 watches. And the severe weather season is only intensifying.”

Check out the blow-by-blow as meteorologists, in touch with National Weather Service offices around the country, get forecasts ready to publish (the severe weather prediction map is updated five times a day).