Florida panhandle dealing with drought, but here’s how bad things can really get

MONDAY UPDATE: Temperatures jumped into the low 80s and even the mid-80s in South and Central Florida Monday afternoon, the warmest weather since the holiday season.

It was 85 in Arcadia and 84 in Lake Wales, according to Weather Underground.

It was generally in the upper 70s on both coasts, although Miami reported 81 degrees just after noon. It was also 80 at Orlando Executive Airport, the first 80-degree reading since January 12.

A cold front due Tuesday is expected to push highs down below 70 in Central Florida until the weekend. A warming trend begins Friday.

Precip forecast

RAINFALL FORECAST: Forecast models are still at odds over how much rain will fall on the Florida peninsula mid-week as a result of a stalled cold front. NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center hints at almost an inch of rain falling over the next week on South Florida’s East Coast. Luckily, no Arctic blast is associated with the upcoming cold front — it should only tease temps down slightly as winds remain out of the east off the Atlantic, according to the National Weather Service. (Image credit: NOAA/ WPC)

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CAREENING TOWARD CATASTROPHE: If you want to know what the worst of drought can bring to an urban area, read Bob Henson’s piece on Weather Underground: “It’s True: Cape Town’s Water Supply is Three Months Away from a Shutdown.”

It’s been so far, so good this winter in the Florida peninsula, despite warnings that drought could form as a result of dry conditions caused by La Niña in the tropical Pacific. According to the latest analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor, however, Moderate Drought, Severe Drought and Abnormally Dry conditions have been limited to the Florida panhandle.

The Central panhandle is in the grip of Severe Drought, but many locations on the peninsula have been running precipitation surpluses.

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Areas of the Florida panhandle are struggling with Severe Drought this winter. (Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor)

Florida is certainly one state where dire consequences can develop over the winter dry season, as it did in 2006-2008, when Lake Okeechobee hit an all-time low water level of 8.82 feet and the Kissimmee River didn’t flow for months.

Now it seems that Cape Town, South Africa, is just a few months away from what city officials call “Day Zero” — when the municipal water supply has virtually dried up and the city becomes incapable of supplying water to residents.

Cape Town is in the middle of its summer dry season, and if it doesn’t rain before April services will begin to get cut off.

That means “no water coming out the taps. Toilets cannot be flushed. Fire services cannot get water out of the fire hydrants. People will have to walk to water tankers to fill up drinking water bottles,” an official told Weather Undergound.

Officials are racing to get mobile desalinization plants online, and are drilling deeper to find more sources of groundwater. Even so, neighborhoods may need to be cut off for parts of the day in order to reduce demand.

Day Zero is predicted to occur on April 21.

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Florida (finally) picks up some rain; forecasters recall Collier County fires

Collier County wildfires

Wildfires in Collier County came in at Number 3 in the top weather stories of 2017 by the National Weather Service in Miami. (Credit: NWS-Miami)

Dry conditions have been developing across the Florida peninsula this month with most National Weather Service observation sites reporting a 1-2-inch shortfall — in some cases more.

That goes hand-in-hand with a La Niña winter, as we found out last March when Severe Drought conditions formed over much of the peninsula and wildfires developed in March and April.

Fires in Collier County caused more than $4 million in damage — but no loss of life — and that was identified as number three in the top five weather stories of 2017 by the NWS in Miami.

La Niña — cooler than normal water in the tropical Pacific that influences winter weather in North America — booked a return engagement this winter, so watch for a repeat of fire weather this spring.

Measurable precipitation fell across parts of Florida for the first time in two weeks on Wednesday, although it wasn’t enough to put much of a dent in rainfall deficits.

An observer for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network just west of downtown Miami reported a 24-hour total through Thursday morning of 1.23 inches. In Palm Beach County, Palm Beach Shores on Singer Island reported a 24-hour total of 0.66 of an inch.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International picked up 0.37 of an inch on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some parts of West Palm Beach reported up to 0.31 of an inch through Thursday morning, but Palm Beach International Airport reported 0.07 of an inch.

Some areas of Northeast Florida measured just under a quarter of an inch, and there were some spotty rain showers in the panhandle, too. Central Florida was dry.

A dry weekend is in the forecast for most of Florida but rain chances rise to 50 percent for New Year’s Day, according to NWS forecasters in Miami, Melbourne and Tampa. Rain chances in Key West will only be around 20 percent, however.

Key West temps

HOT AND COLD RUNNING WEATHER: Key West had the warmest temperature in the U.S. Thursday at 6 a.m. EST at 73, while Watertown, New York was the coldest at 32 degrees below zero. That’s a difference of 105 degrees, notes the National Weather Service in Key West. “If you are traveling, check weather.gov at your destination as a bitter cold continues from the Plains to Great Lakes & the Northeast,” forecasters noted on their Facebook page. (Credit: NWS-Key West)

Jacksonville ties record high; drought conditions likely to develop in Florida

National highs

BEST CHRISTMAS WEATHER IN THE NATION: That would be South Florida, where highs are expected to reach the mid-70s, and the Arizona Desert, where temps should also top out in the mid-70s. (Credit: NWS)

Jacksonville tied a record high Sunday with 83, matching the mark previously set in 2015.

But North Florida was cooling down on Christmas morning, with temperatures in the mid-40s, as a cold front worked its way south.

It was in the mid- to upper 50s in Central Florida and the upper 60s on the coasts of Southern Florida.

By the time the front makes it all the way through South Florida, winds are forecast to swing around to the northeast, bringing in warm and moist air off the Atlantic, so not much of a cool-down is expected in places like Miami, West Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast.

With the wind switch, rain chances do rise, though, through the end of the week, especially for coastal areas of South Florida, the National Weather Service said.

NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center is forecasting 0.7 of an inch just off-shore of Palm Beach over the next week. West Palm Beach is almost 2 inches short of normal rainfall for December, so that wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference.

Almost all observation sites in the Florida peninsula and the Keys are reporting precipitation shortfalls of between a half-inch and 2 inches, with the only exceptions being Vero Beach on the East Coast and Fort Myers on the West Coast.

In North Florida, Jacksonville is even-steven and Gainesville has a surplus of 0.80 of an inch.

In fact, the Climate Prediction Center predicts drought conditions developing over the Florida peninsula during the next three-month, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some yellow “Abnormally Dry” designations by the U.S. Drought Monitor popping up next month over parts of the peninsula. Right now, they are mostly confined to North Florida and the panhandle.

Drought development

Drought conditions are likely to develop around the Florida peninsula through March, the Climate Prediction Center said Thursday. (Credit: NOAA/ CPC)

January sneak peek: Ultra-dry conditions likely throughout Florida

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Unusually dry conditions are forecast for at least the first two weeks of January in Florida and most of Texas. The new long-range outlook was released Friday. (Credit: NOAA/ CPC)

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a very dry start to January in Florida while the Mid-Atlantic States may see more snow and rain than usual, through at least the first two weeks of the new year.

Above-normal temperatures are also probable in Florida, consistent with the La Niña in the tropical Pacific Ocean. NOAA released its updated ENSO report on Thursday, and said La Niña conditions continued to strengthen in December, and probably won’t begin to weaken until spring.

Florida winters are normally dry, but below-normal precipitation can give drought an extra push and set the stage for wildfires when temperatures begin to heat up in March and April.

The strong cold front that pushed down the peninsula the first week of the month left some impressive precipitation totals around North and Central Florida. Still, as we move into the second half of December most locations are running rainfall deficits, approaching an inch in some cases.

There are a couple of notable exceptions — Key West is slightly above average for precipitation as is Vero Beach and Fort Myers.

Tampa, though, is more than a third-of-an-inch short, Miami is almost a half-inch shy of normal and West Palm Beach is down almost a full inch.

I chatted with Florida State Climatologist David Zierden on Friday, and he pointed out that ultra-dry weather may be on the horizon over the next several months in Florida. “There’s the possibility of drought development before we get into the spring and the start of the rainy season.

“We saw that last year with the drought and the wildfires that developed in April and early May. Things were getting fairly dicey, with agricultural interests and range land suffering,” said Zierden, who works out of Florida State University.

“But then we had a very robust start to the rainy season around June 1 that eliminated the drought.”

Last year’s dry spell was also blamed on La Nina, which shifted to neutral conditions in early summer before trending back toward the new La Nina we entered in fall.

“It was a significant drought we had last year but not a long-lasting one,” Zierden said.

NOAA boosts Florida rainfall forecast, but drought concerns continue

5 day rainfall

(Credit: NOAA/ WPC)

Palm Beach on Florida’s East Coast — and over to Fort Myers on the West Coast — could be in for almost 2 inches of rain over the next several days before the season’s strongest cold front finally clears the peninsula.

NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center also predicts a swath of heavier rainfall through the center of the state north of Okeechobee. This rain will be beneficial since almost all reporting stations around Florida, from the Keys to the panhandle, are looking at growing precipitation deficits since the end of November.

The rain should start Thursday in the north and continue into Friday and Saturday in South Florida, the National Weather Service said.

Thursday temps
(Image credit: NWS-Tampa)

As is often the case with winter cold fronts, forecast highs and lows have been trending down across the state. Even South Florida may not get out of the mid-60s on Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

The adjacent forecast map from the National Weather Service in Tampa shows the progress of the front as of Thursday morning, with cold temperatures already edging into northern counties.

Once the front does clear, rain chances across the peninsula fall to near zero, which brings us to the subject of potential winter drought — not only in Florida but the southern tier of states. The U.S. Drought Monitor published its updated drought status on Thursday, with drought or Abnormally Dry conditions in the Florida panhandle and spreading down to the Nature Coast north of Tampa.

Incredibly — despite Hurricane Harvey pounding East Texas with almost 60 inches of rain at the end of August — many of the affected areas are now Abnormally Dry or already entering drought conditions.

“In Texas, areas of drought expanded across the eastern portion of the state as the warm and dry pattern continued,” the Drought Monitor noted in its Thursday analysis. “According to NOAA’s NCEI [National Centers for Environmental Information], Texas experienced its 12th driest and 6th warmest October-November period on record.”

Texas drought

Much of Eastern Texas is either Abnormally Dry or already in drought conditions. (Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor)

Will end-of-week storms zap growing rainfall deficit?

7 day rainfall

Projected rainfall through Tuesday, December 12. (Credit: NOAA/ WPC)

Up to an inch of rain is possible on Florida’s East Coast — from around Melbourne down to Miami — with the arrival of the end-of-week cold front.

Some of the coolest temperatures of the season will remain locked into place through at least early next week, forecasters say, with some slow-but-steady rainfall totals that should eat up precipitation deficits that have been developing over the peninsula.

NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center has most of the peninsula shaded in dark blue in the seve-day graphical forecast, indicating around a half-inch may fall through the weekend. Heavier amounts may target the southeastern coast and in the Florida panhandle, where drought conditions have already developed.

Moderate Drought (D1) has moved into the central panhandle north of Apalachicola to the Georgia-Alabama state line, while Abnormally Dry conditions have spread south and east into the Nature Coast, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Both Tallahassee and Apalachicola had precipitation deficits of nearly 3 inches in October, and the unsually dry weather has continued into December. Apalachicola has yet to record a drop of rain this month.

Although locations down the Florida peninsula fared better during the fall (with notable exceptions of Orlando and West Palm Beach), the entire state is at greater risk for drought this winter due to the presence of La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific.

In its last monthly Drought Outlook published November 16, the Climate Prediction Center said drought conditions were likely to develop by the end of February in all of the panhandle and into North Florida.

But with a warm and dry winter forecast for Florida, don’t be surprised to see at least Abnormally Dry conditions slowly spreading down the peninsula as the season progresses.

“Each of the last four weak La Niña winters have led to moderate to severe drought by spring over at least parts of South Florida,” the National Weather Service in Miami said in its Dry Season Outlook issued October 27.

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7 day forecast Tallahassee

Wintry temperatures, by Florida standards, are in the forecast for the end of the week. (Credits: NWS-Tallahassee, above; NWS-Tampa, below)

Friday afternoon highs

Florida rainfall deficits mounting — will tropical wave come to the rescue?

SFL tropical waves

WEDNESDAY UPDATE:  A pair of tropical waves, one of them the remnants of Tropical Depression Four, are expected to bring some much needed rain to South Florida late Wednesday and Thursday, the National Weather Service in Miami said. No development of the waves is forecast, but the TD Four remnants may bring the wettest weather.  “Locally heavy rainfall will be a concern,” forecasters said in their Wednesday morning discussion from Miami, “mainly with training activity, but there doesn’t look to be a significant flooding threat as the wave looks to continue to dampen out as it approaches.” (Credit: NWS-Miami)

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ORIGINAL POST: Despite all the whoopin’ and hollerin’ about potential tropical activity in the Atlantic, the first 10 days of the month have come in ultra-dry for Florida’s East Coast.

Palm Beach is officially an inch-and-a-half behind on normal rainfall, Fort Lauderdale is three-quarters of an inch short, and Miami has about a half-inch deficit. In the Keys, Marathon is an inch behind although Key West has had precipitation levels near average.

A tropical wave brought rainfall to the extreme southern peninsula and the Keys on Monday, but conditions remained dry north of Fort Lauderdale.

The West Coast has been the big beneficiary of the trend, with Naples chalking up 5.11 inches of rain so far in July — 2.35 above average.

Rainfall has been very localized — typical of summer in Florida. For example, Orlando is enjoying near-average precipitation this month but to the east, Melbourne has had only 0.04 of an inch, closing in on 2 inches below normal with a third of the month already in the books.

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LA record Saturday

Record heat has baked the Southwest this summer. (Credit: NWS-Los Angeles)

Florida temperatures have been hot — but that’s par for the course. So far, temperatures haven’t approached the record levels seen last year, although overnight record warm lows continues to be set in East Coast locations.

But unprecedented heat waves have gripped other parts of the country, particularly the Southwest. On Saturday, Los Angeles hit 98 degrees, smashing a 131-year-old record high of 95 set in 1886.

All-in-all, the first half of 2017 was the second-warmest on record, according to NOAA. The warmest first half of the year was 2012.

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A quiet forecast map returned Tuesday at the National Hurricane Center. (Credit: NHC)

TROPICS TALK: Forecast models made an abrupt U-turn Tuesday and decided they favor a quiet Atlantic over the next seven to 10 days. The disturbance in the eastern Atlantic has been taken off the National Hurricane Center forecast map and the two models that do most of the heavy lifting for forecasters — the GFS and the European (ECMWF) — show clear sailing, at least for now.

Also, the latest attempts by ex-Tropical Depression Four north of Puerto Rico to spin back up into a tropical cyclone have been kicked back by dry air, and the future of this slow-moving system remains uncertain.

Whatever does survive may head for the Florida Straits rather than the peninsula itself, hurricane forecast models suggest.

However, the National Weather Service in Miami continues to call for a wet day on Thursday as ex-TD Four slides over or near the area.

“Numerous showers with embedded thunderstorms are expected throughout the day,” forecasters said Tuesday, with “periods of locally heavy rainfall” possible. “Enhanced cloud cover will also hold down temperatures a few degrees in the mid-upper 80s.”

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Tuesday’s forecast tracks for ex-TD Four suggest the possibility of a more southerly route. (Credit: SFWMD)