Severe Drought takes hold on Florida’s East Coast

severe weather week thursday

Thursday’s edition of the National Weather Service focuses on hurricanes. Florida leads the United States in the number of landfalling hurricanes, the agency notes. Severe Weather Awareness Week kicked off Monday with information on lightning threats; Tuesday covered marine hazards; Wednesday looked at tornadoes and thunderstorms; and Friday will cover heat, cold and wildfires. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

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Severe Drought conditions moved in to Florida’s East Coast this week, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

A large swath of the peninsula, from Brevard county south to the southern tip and west into Collier County, has been in the grip of Moderate Drought. But rain shortages have become significant enough to warrant an uptick in the status from central and northern Palm Beach County north into southern Brevard. The Severe Drought designation extends inland but not as far west as Lake Okeechobee.

However, the Drought Monitor map now shows the eastern half of Martin County, most of St. Lucie County, and almost all of Indian River County under Severe Drought.

“A Severe Drought area was added from near Melbourne south to Port St Lucie, Florida where precipitation deficits are in excess of 12 inches during the past 180 days,” NOAA’s Brad Pugh said in the new analysis. “This newly introduced D2 area is also supported by negative SPI values at varying time ranges.

“The abnormal dryness (D0) area was expanded to include western Collier County given the increasing 90-day precipitation deficits. As of January 15, water levels in Lake Okeechobee were more than 2 feet below normal. Although it is a dry time of year, southern Florida will be closely monitored in subsequent weeks for further degradation.”

January rainfall deficits have been building throughout the entire state, from Key West to Tallahassee, and it’s unclear how much relief, if any, this weekend’s cold front and accompanying line of showers and thunderstorms might provide.

West Palm Beach has the highest monthly deficit with 1.68 inches; followed by Fort Lauderdale at 1.12 inches; Orlando at 1.09 inches; Jacksonville at 1.03 inches; and Fort Pierce at 1 inch.

The Key West deficit stands at 0.98 of an inch; Melbourne is at 0.97; Brooksville, 0.90; Vero Beach, 0.88; Fort Myers, 0.88; Naples, 0.86 (Naples has only had a trace of rain all month); Gainesville, 0.84; Tallahassee, 0.75 ; Miami, 0.73 of an inch;  and Tampa, 0.20.

Many of these locations are outside the designated drought areas due to heavy rains in December. But most of that beneficial rainfall missed the East Coast.

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NOAA backs off on El Niño; Florida drought severity at issue

El Niño, where hast thou gone?

NOAA Meteorologists had El Niño chances jacked up to 90 percent in December. But the latest outlook released Thursday knocks chances all the way back to 65 percent.

In addition, although there was some warming of the tropical Pacific in November and December, the areas that affect El Niño have since cooled, and experts said the atmosphere has not responded to the warmer water and is acting as if there are neutral conditions in the Pacific — which there are.

Nonetheless, they still expect a weak El Niño to form by spring and possibly continue into fall, which would potentially help mediate the Atlantic tropical storm season. But with probabilities on the decline, it makes you wonder if this is going to happen at all.

The storminess that usually affects Central Florida during El Niño winters hasn’t developed this season, although there has been a few early winter severe weather threats in both Central and South Florida.

In Thursday’s report, NOAA said: “Regardless of the above-average SSTs, the atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific has not yet shown clear evidence of coupling to the ocean. The late winter and early spring tend to be the most favorable months for coupling, so forecasters still believe weak El Niño conditions will emerge shortly. However, given the timing and that a weak event is favored, significant global impacts are not anticipated during the remainder of winter, even if conditions were to form.

In Australia, where they also keep pretty close track of these things, the Bureau of Meteorology said in a January 8 report explained:

“While waters at and beneath the surface of the tropical Pacific have been warmer than average since mid-2018, atmospheric indicators of ENSO such as cloudiness, trade winds and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) have not responded and have mostly remained neutral. For an El Niño to become established, the atmosphere needs to reinforce and respond to the warmer waters at the ocean’s surface. This reinforcement is what allows the widespread global effects on weather and climate to occur.

“The recent cooling of tropical Pacific waters may partly reflect the movement of the Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO), which has recently encouraged stronger trade winds over the tropical Pacific. However, the MJO is moving east, weakening the trade winds once again, which may allow the ocean surface to warm again.”

14 day temps

(Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

Long story short, you have to wonder what impact Pacific water temperatures are causing in the U.S., since the outlook for the upper Midwest and Great Lakes area is for below normal temperatures for the second half of January, with above normal temperatures in the Southeast. That’s kind of a flip-flop from what you’d see in an El Niño.

It will be very interesting to see what the February reports have to say. Whatever happens will likely have a big impact on the 2019 hurricane season.

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SEVERE DROUGHT ON THE WAY? Another impact of an El Niño is increased rainfall in the Southeast, including Florida. Instead, drought conditions are expanding in the peninsula and unless patterns change, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Severe Drought start to edge into areas that are now under Moderate Drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor addressed this issue Thursday: “90-day rainfall deficits ranged from 4 to 8 inches from West Palm Beach south to Miami. As of January 7, water levels in Lake Okeechobee were approximately 2 feet below normal. Since it is typically dry this time of year, there are no impacts apparent at this time to support the introduction of severe drought (D2). This area will be closely monitored for future degradation.”

Through the first 10 days of January, major South Florida locations — Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Naples — have reported just a trace of rain to 0.01 of an inch. Key West has had 0.06 of an inch.

Even Orlando is down 0.13 of an inch and Jacksonville, 0.38.

Tampa had 0.84 of an inch which results in a 0.15 surplus through January 10, but most West-Central cities from Fort Myers up to Brooksville have up to a half-inch rainfall deficit.

Keep those irrigation systems cranked up and ready to go.

After mid-week chill, close to 80 by Sunday, forecasters say

cfl thursday am temps

Central Florida Thursday morning temps were “a tad chilly,” the National Weather Service said on Facebook. (Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

“Okay, campers, rise and shine and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cold out there today!” (Yup, that’s from the movie Groundhog Day — Punxsutawney Phil’s mid-winter extravaganza is just 23 days away.)

Thursday morning temperatures were uniformly cool over almost the entire state, with upper 30s to low 40s stretching from the panhandle over to Jacksonville, and down into interior areas of Central and even South Florida. Exceptions were the southeastern coast and the Keys.

keys temps

It was a little warmer in the Keys …. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

It was in the mid-50s in the Upper Keys and the low 60s in the Lower Keys, including 62 in Key West, according to Weather Underground.

It was around 50 in the Palm Beaches, the low 50s in the Fort Lauderdale area and most of Miami-Dade County, with mid-50s in Miami Beach.

Upper 40s to near 50 covered Southwest Florida but there were lots of the low 40s in interior portions of South Florida.

An observer just outside Okeechobee reported a temperature of 31, but in nearby Sebring it was 46.

Mid-40s stretched from the Tampa area over to the Treasure Coast, and it was 45 in Orlando.

There were a few upper 30s in North-Central Florida 30 in the Lake City area and upper 30s to low 40s in the Jacksonville area.

nfl wind chills

North Florida wind chills had a bit of a bite on Thursday morning. (Credit: NWS-Jacksonville)

The National Weather Service reported that the temperature dipped to 49 just before sunrise in West Palm Beach, which will be the likely low for the day — that’s 8 degrees below average. Miami International Airport reported 53 and Fort Lauderdale fell to 52.

A warm-up is in the works for the weekend — the forecast high in South Florida on Sunday is around 80 — before another cold front sweeps through and knocks temperatures back to slightly below normal again for the first part of next week. Tampa and Orlando should be in the upper 70s on Sunday, slightly cooler in Daytona Beach.

The weather pattern over the next 10 days will be pretty mundane for mid-winter, according to the National Weather Service. No great warm-ups, no drastic cold snaps. Forecasters Thursday morning were predicting a “relatively zonal mid and upper-level flow with periodic shortwave troughs associated with the northern branch of the jet stream occasionally pushing cold fronts through the eastern [U.S., which] will continue into next week.”

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DROUGHT UPDATE: Moderate Drought conditions expanded again to include all of the southern Florida peninsula, including Mainland Monroe and most of Collier County, as well as southern Miami-Dade County, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

Abnormally Dry conditions encompass a swath of Central Florida, including Lee County on the West Coast and areas north and west of Lake Okeechobee.

Some areas of South Florida area already almost an inch behind normal precipitation levels for this point in January — 10 days into the month.

Near-perfect weather for most of Florida, but rainfall deficits continue to build

tallahassee forecast

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: Nice nice nice! A mid-week cold front bumps temperatures down a notch or two, but nothing too dramatic. The only problem is, rainfall deficits will continue to build in South Florida and East-Central Florida. No meaningful rains have fallen during the first week of the month in South Florida, which is coming off big December deficits. The front that pushes down the peninsula Tuesday night and Wednesday will be a dry one, the National Weather Service says.

keys forecast

Hurricane Center watching for off-season development in Pacific

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TROPICS WATCH: January should be a smoke-em-if-you-got-em time for the staff at the National Hurricane Center, a period deep into the off-season that offers a chance for research and fine-tuning forecast infrastructure. Lo and behold, though, an area of interest has popped up on the Northeastern Pacific Tropical Weather Outlook map, 1,300 miles southwest the tip of Baja California. The broad area of low pressure was moving north and NHC forecasters gave it a 50 percent chance of developing “tropical or subtropical characteristics” over the next five days. “Environmental conditions are expected to become unfavorable for further development by early next week,” forecaster David Zelinsky said. “Regardless of tropical or subtropical cyclone development, the low will likely produce gale-force winds over the weekend.” Tropical systems in the Northeastern Pacific are not entirely unknown in January — four have formed since record keeping began. It seems February is a more unlikely time for tropical development in that area. Only one storm has formed during that month. The Northeastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 to November 30. (Image credit: NHC)

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(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

ABOUT THAT COLD FRONT: It was entering the panhandle on Friday and was forecast to roll through Central and South Florida on Saturday. Unfortunately for South Florida, it looks like it’s going to come through mostly dry.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Miami upped rain chances to just 20 percent, and they expected rainfall totals to be less than a tenth of an inch in most places. Eastern and southern portions of the Florida peninsula are still dealing with Moderate Drought conditions, and December ended dry in the southeast.

West Palm Beach ended December with a shortfall of 1.94 inches.

Rain chances are a little higher on the state’s West Coast, forecasters said.

It seems 2018 was either feast or famine for rainfall in the U.S. Bob Henson at Weather Underground has an interesting analysis of the final data for the year. The Mid-Atlantic was drenched in 2018, and the heavy rainfall totals stretched all the way down to the Gulf Coast. Rainfall totals in the Central Florida panhandle were in the top 10 percent compared to other years, but Central and South Florida were unusually dry, along with the western U.S. Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina posted an amazing yearly total of 139.94 inches.

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RECORD WATCH: Fort Lauderdale notched a record warm low temperature on Thursday of 76 degrees, beating the old record of 75 set in 2015. The low in Key West was 78, which broke the previous record warm low of 77, also set in 2015.

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.

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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.

Rain forecast for panhandle while peninsula enjoys warming temps

SFL forecast highs

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

The New Year’s weekend warm-up has begun in South and Central Florida, with highs running 3-5 degrees above normal — and overnight lows coming in more than 10 degrees above average for this time of the year.

From the Keys to Miami and up into Orlando and Tampa, highs are expected to top 80 through New Year’s Day with winds calming by the weekend under a dome of high pressure, the National Weather Service says.

It looks like forecast highs and lows may be short of record temps, however.

Panhandle rainfall

(Image credit: NWS-Tallahassee)

The situation is a little different in North Florida and the panhandle, where rain associated with a cold front is forecast to dump up to 2 inches of rain in the Central Panhandle with lighter amounts going down into the Big Bend area and Cross City, forecasters in Tallahassee said Thursday.

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DROUGHT UPDATE: Moderate Drought edged farther west into interior counties this week, according to the latest analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Florida’s East Coast, from Brevard County south to southern Miami-Dade County remained under Moderate Drought, but the designation swallowed more inland areas west of Lake Okeechobee and to the north in Osecola County.

Last week’s rains didn’t quite make it into the areas where it’s much-needed. All of Mainland Monroe and most of Collier County remain Abnormally Dry.

Moderate precipitation kept most of the region free of dryness and drought, with the exception of southeastern Florida,” NOAA’s Richard Tinker said. “Three to locally over six inches of precipitation doused the northwestern tier of the D0-D1 areas, eliminating the former D0 areas from approximately Volusia southwestward to parts of Hardee and Polk Counties, but the rain cutoff sharply on its southeastern side, leaving the remaining D0 and most of last week’s D1 intact.”

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NASTY WEATHER NATIONWIDE: While Central and South Florida look forward to some late-December beach weather, the northern plains are getting whacked with a blizzard. Much of the eastern U.S. will be hit with rain this weekend, according to NOAA forecasts, although temperatures are forecast to warm into the 50s as far north as Albany, NY.

But a cooler-than-normal first half of January is in the forecast for most of the South and Eastern U.S., from the Mid-Atlantic States south to the Florida panhandle and west to Texas. Above normal precipitation is also in the forecast for those areas.