Florida drought conditions improve in western peninsula, more rain on the way

Last weekend’s stormy weather washed away drought conditions in parts of Florida, but much of the peninsula is still unusually dry.

Most of the Orlando area is still dealing with Moderate Drought. But on the West Coast, Poke County and parts of Manatee County were removed from the Abnormally Dry category by the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday.

South Florida remained under Moderate Drought, with Severe Drought covering North Miami-Dade, eastern Collier, and southwestern Broward counties.

There was some drought expansion in East-Central Florida.

7 day rainfall

(Image credit: NOAA/ WPC)

WEEKEND RAIN EVENT ON TRACK: A stalled front will bring rain to most of the peninsula over the weekend, the National Weather Service says, with highest chances on Sunday into Monday. The Weather Prediction Center shows highest amounts in coastal East-Central Florida, where more than 2 inches could fall.

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March global temps

(Image credit: NOAA/ NCEI)

WORLDWIDE WARMTH: This spring has been cool to downright cold in the eastern U.S. But globally, on land and on sea, March 2018 was the fifth-warmest on record, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported Wednesday. NASA declared it the fifth warmest March behind 2016, 2017, 2010, 2002, and 2015.

Ocean temperatures were the fifth-warmest and land temperatures were the seventh-warmest.

Hot spots included northern Africa and much of Asia, while the eastern U.S. were cooler than average as was northern Europe.

MORE APRIL MISERY: South-Central Wisconsin took another winter-style beating Wednesday with up to 8 inches of snow in some areas. Madison measured 7.2 inches, beating the previous snowfall record for April 18 of 3.4 inches set in 1912. Milwaukee and its western suburbs picked up 3-4 inches.

The snow was forecast to move into the eastern Great Lakes states Thursday, with around 2 inches expected in Upstate New York and western Pennsylvania and even down into the mountains of West Virginia.

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More rain this weekend should cut into Florida’s ultra-dry conditions

Error cone changes

CONE CONCERNS: Here’s a good graphic showing how track errors have been reduced once again by the National Hurricane Center for the upcoming season. While they are not dramatic changes year-to-year, the cone of error has shrunk considerably over the last decade. This is, of course, helpful for planning purposes, but experts note that storms can and do move outside the cone. “Historical data indicate that the entire 5-day path of the center of the tropical cyclone will remain within the tropical cyclone track forecast error cone roughly 60 to 70 percent of the time,” forecasters said. (Graphic credit: NWS-Key West)

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Humidity levels West Coast

(Image credit: TampaBay)

Humidity levels have been rock-bottom low around Florida this week as an unusually dry air mass settles over the peninsula. The center of the high pressure system that brought all of the cool weather was expected to be dead-center over Florida on Wednesday.

Miami was looking at relative humidity readings of 31 percent on Tuesday afternoon, but those numbers should start edging up with winds turning easterly off the Atlantic. On the West Coast, though, relative humidity could sink into the lower 20s, according to the National Weather Service in Tampa.

Despite that, the only immediate fire concerns are in northeastern Florida, where the threat of wildfires is elevated.

The abundant rain that accompanied last weekend’s strong cold front is helping to tamp down fire threats. Calm winds are also a factor.

Rainfall totals around much of the state are in positive territory for April, and another front expected to stall over South Florida this weekend should continue to help alleviate the dry conditions.

Tampa is at plus 0.92 of an inch for April and Orlando is up 0.41 of an inch. Jacksonville is up 0.45 of an inch and Gainesville is running a whopping 5.33-inch surplus thanks to a nearly 5-inch deluge on April 9.

Miami is looking at a 0.49-inch shortfall, and Key West is down an inch for the month. But Marathon is up 1.28 inches and West Palm Beach is up 2 inches.

Another 1-2 inches could fall this weekend and into early next week with the stalled front, according to NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center. All of this rain should start having an impact on Florida’s Abnormally Dry and Moderate- to Severe-Drought conditions.

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Watching witches

AND THE AWARD FOR BEST WEATHER GRAPHIC GOES TO … The National Weather Service in Jacksonville used these images from the Wizard of Oz to explain the difference between watches and warnings. Some good information to remember if you run into stormy weather as you’re traveling down the Yellow Brick Road. (Image credit: NWS-Jacksonville)

Cold front forecast to drive Florida lows into 40s

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(Image credit: NOAA/ SPC)

NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center put most of Central and South Florida into the Marginal Risk category for severe weather on Sunday, while North Florida remained in the higher Slight Risk category.

The Carolinas were at highest risk, with an “Enhanced Risk” also covering northeastern Georgia. The analysis was issued by the SPC at 8 a.m.; it’s been shifting over the last couple of days.

The cold front appeared formidable on Gulf of Mexico satellite imagery. It should clear most of the peninsula by early Monday morning, the National Weather Service said.

Continental US - Clean Longwave Window - IR

(Image credit: NOAA)

In South Florida, southerly winds brought in unusually warm air Saturday night and Sunday morning, potentially setting new record warm lows on the East Coast.

Fort Lauderdale’s apparent low was a muggy 79, which would set a record; Miami’s low was 78, which would also set a record; and the apparent low in West Palm Beach was 76, which would tie the record warm minimum mark set in 2015.

“The big caveat is that values are likely to fall this evening in convection and (frontal passage) likely before midnight,” NWS forecasters in Miami said early Sunday morning.

NEXT UP: Unusually cool morning lows are forecast on Tuesday. The forecast low in West Palm Beach is 58 — the record low for the date is 50. Lows west of Lake Okeechobee are expected to be in the 40s.

The forecast low in Tampa on Tuesday morning is 54; Orlando, 52; Gainesville, 45; Jacksonville, 48; Lake City, 43.

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THE WEST MOVES EAST: Arid sections of the U.S. are shifting east, a new study by Columbia University says.

For 140 years, the 100th meridian was considered to be the dividing line between dry areas of the western U.S. and humid areas of the East.

“The line appears to be slowly moving eastward, due to climate change,” Columbia announced in a news release. “They say it will almost certainly continue shifting in coming decades, expanding the arid climate of the western plains into what we think of as the Midwest. The implications for farming and other pursuits could be huge.”

The line, which represents a dramatic cutoff with thick heavy grasses and flowers on the east side and cactus and yucca plants on the west side, once rode up through Central Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle and central parts of Nebraska and the Dakotas. It now goes up through East Texas and extends north to the Minnesota state line.

“As drying progresses, farms further and further east will have to consolidate and become larger in order to remain viable,” the university says. “Unless farmers turn to irrigation or otherwise adapt, they will have to turn from corn to wheat or some other more suitable crop. Large expanses of cropland may fail altogether, and have to be converted to western-style grazing range. Water supplies could become a problem for urban areas.”

Strong weekend cold front to bring storms, sharp temperature drop

World Meteorological Organization retires four 2017 hurricane names

Key West rainfall record

HISTORIC RAINFALL FOOTNOTE: April is usually a dry month in Florida, from the Keys to the panhandle. But Key West was hammered with 6.19 inches of rain 33 years ago, on April 12, 1985. It was the most rainfall ever recorded in April in Key West, where records date to 1871. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

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We’re headed into mid-April, but the cold fronts just keep on a’ comin’.

Another front that pushes temperatures into the 40s as far south as inland South Florida is on the way for early next week, the National Weather Service says.

Low temperatures on Tuesday could sink to near 60 on the southeast coast, according to forecasters, while temps north and west of Lake Okeechobee could bottom out in the upper 40s — pretty chilly by mid-April standards.

Orlando is expecting low 50s, with upper 40s on the Nature Coast and a jacket-wearing low of 45 in Gainesville.

The cold snap should keep a cap on daytime highs through mid-week. Tuesday’s forecast high in West Palm Beach, 75, is the average high in January. It’s 7 degrees below normal for this time of the year.

With bright spring sunshine, the entire state will warm into the 70s on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some potentially severe weather could accompany the strong cold front as it plows down the peninsula over the weekend, according to the Storm Prediction Center, but the threat isn’t clear this far out.

The SPC is warning of Enhanced Risk of severe weather in the Florida panhandle on Saturday, and — for now — the Florida peninsula has a 15 percent chance of severe weather on Sunday.

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DROUGHT WATCH: Abnormally Dry conditions pulled back in North Central Florida this week thanks to the heavy rainfall on Monday and Tuesday. Central Florida remained Abnormally Dry with a pocket of Moderate Drought remaining in the Orlando area, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

South Florida remained under Moderate Drought conditions, with some Severe Drought in northern Miami-Dade County, western Broward County, eastern Collier County and the southwest corner of Palm Beach County.

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GOODBYE HARVEY, IRMA, MARIA AND NATE: Hello Harold, Idalia, Margot, and Nigel.

You won’t see the first set of names — made infamous during the 2017 hurricane season — used by the National Hurricane Center in the future. They were retired by the World Meteorological Organization on Thursday.

Storm names are recycled every six years, and the new set will be used for the 2023 hurricane season.

Storm names are retired “if they were so deadly or destructive that the future use of the name would be insensitive,” the NHC explained in a news release.

The retirement of four storm names is the most set aside by the World Meteorological Organization in the Atlantic Basin since 2005, when five names were put out to pasture — hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma. The previous year, four names were retired — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

In fact, 2017 joins just three other seasons in which four names were retired. Those were — in addition to 2004 — 1955 and 1995.

 

Showers bring up to an inch of much-needed rain to parts of South Florida

Showers brushed much of the Florida peninsula Sunday, but it was definitely no drought-busting deluge.

In Palm Beach County, where a line of storm cells flowed up from the southwest toward the Atlantic coast, Palm Beach International Airport picked up 0.49 of an inch. It was the first measurable rainfall in West Palm Beach since March 26.

Miami International reported 0.04 of an inch; Fort Lauderdale and Naples, a trace. But 0.95 of an inch fell at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

Also, around an inch fell unofficially near Lighthouse Point in northeastern Broward County, ditto for coastal Boynton Beach in Palm Beach. Amounts were lighter to the north, with around a tenth to a quarter of an inch falling in Central Florida.

Rain chances in South Florida stay in the 40-50 percent range through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, then jump again for the weekend.

The front that triggered the showers Sunday has shifted north, and 2-3 inches of rain were expected in North-Central Florida on Monday.  That forecast covers cities like Ocala and Gainesville over to St. Augustine and Palm Coast on the Atlantic side.

WK34prcp

(Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

The hope was that a series of stalled fronts and a moist atmosphere would start to put a dent in drought conditions that have been building around the Florida peninsula.

But NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued a long-term outlook Friday suggesting that Florida will be abnormally dry through at least May 4.

Wet weekend on the way in Florida; severe weather possible

Severe weather Saturday

Some severe weather is possible around the state over the weekend, especially on Saturday in North Florida and the panhandle. (Credit: NOAA/ NWS-TampaBay)

We haven’t seen the words “heavy rain” in the National Weather Service’s South Florida forecast for a while, and the lawns, gardens and fields are starting to show it. Although temperatures have been balmy, the lush landscaping residents and visitors have come to expect is courtesy of an irrigation system.

Ditto for parts of Central Florida, particularly the Orlando area. Some of these locations are under at least Moderate Drought conditions as of Thursday — a designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor — and northern Miami-Dade County, western Broward, eastern Collier and the southwestern corner of Palm Beach counties are now dealing with Severe Drought.

Will weekend rains provide some relief?

A cold front forecast to work its way down the Florida peninsula on Saturday, and stall over South Florida on Sunday, could deliver some much-needed precipitation. But there’s a potential for severe weather on Saturday in North Florida.

By the time the front slides into northern areas of South Florida on Sunday — we’re talking Lake Okeechobee and Palm Beach — it’s likely to run out of gas, forecasters at the NWS in Miami said Friday. That could stall the tail-end of it over Palm Beach, bringing some “training” of showers and triggering “possibly some heavy rain.”

“This is definitely an area to watch over the next couple of days to see if everything will come together,” forecasters said in their Friday morning discussion.

In Northwest Florida, meanwhile, Levy and Citrus counties are watching for severe weather on Saturday and Saturday night. “The Storm Prediction Center has placed the northern Nature Coast under a Marginal Risk for severe storms, with damaging winds and a tornado or two the main hazards,” forecasters in Tampa said.

Nobody wants severe weather, but some substantial showers would be welcome. Forecasters have put rain chances in Palm Beach at around 40 percent on Sunday. That’s an indication of some potentially wet weather, but significant rainfall is hardly a lock.

In fact, about a quarter of an inch is forecast by NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center for Palm Beach and the Lake Okeechobee area north into Central Florida, with heftiest amounts predicted on Saturday in the panhandle and northwest Florida / Nature Coast.

Another chance of rain comes around on Tuesday.

About a half-inch of rain fell in parts of Broward County and Miami-Dade County on Thursday, with almost three-quarters of an inch near Bonita Springs in Collier County.

Elsewhere, the state was mostly dry and warm. It was 89 in Fort Myers and Punta Gorda.

Two weather stations operated by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, out where the alligators roam in inland Collier County, made it to 90 degrees.

Another above average Atlantic hurricane season likely, Colorado State says

Drought conditions spread in South Florida

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Three hurricanes were lined up in the Atlantic on September 8, 2017 — Katia, Irma and Jose, left to right. There were 17 named storms last year, about five more than an average hurricane season. Will the 2018 season be as active? (Image credit: NOAA)

The 2018 hurricane season will be slightly more active than normal, Colorado State University researchers said in their first pre-season forecast Thursday. But they warned that there was also a slightly above average chance of a major hurricane striking the U.S. coast and the Caribbean.

The forecast, issued by Philip Klotzbach and Michael Bell, calls for 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

By comparison, 2017 had 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes.

They said there’s a 63 percent chance that a major hurricane — Category 3, 4 or 5 — will hit the U.S. coast, which compares to a 52 percent chance in an average year. They put chances of an East Coast hit — including the East Coast of the Florida peninsula — at 39 percent, compared to 31 percent on average.

Risks for the Gulf Coast were estimated to be 38 percent, compared to a 30 percent average.

Chances of a major hitting anywhere in the Caribbean was put at 52 percent; the average is 42 percent.

The forecast is based on predictions that the current weak La Niña in the tropical Pacific will transition to a neutral conditions, which Klotzbach has said puts more emphasis on atmospheric and water conditions in the Atlantic.

“At this point, we do not anticipate a significant El Niño event this summer/fall,” Klotzbach and Bell wrote.

Pre-season forecasts issued in April often change dramatically by the time fhe hurricane season starts on June 1. Last April, CSU called for 11 named storms in its April outlook, then increased the number to 14 on June 1 and 17 on August 4.

In 2016, CSU went from 13 to 14 to 15 in August. That year there were 15 named storms, seven hurricanes and four majors.

NOAA releases its 2018 hurricane forecast in May.

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FLORIDA DROUGHT UPDATE: Almost all of South Florida is now dealing with Moderate Drought conditions, and Severe Drought has moved into parts of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Collier counties, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported in its latest analysis Thursday.

Moderate Drought moved into all of Palm Beach and Broward counties, including coastal areas, while most of Central Florida remains Abnormally Dry.

Moderate Drought continued in the Orlando area. Much of Northwest Florida, including the panhandle, meanwhile, are drought-free, although the Apalachicola area is also experiencing Moderate Drought.

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CENTRAL FLORIDA MARCH WRAP-UP: Fort Pierce had its sixth coldest March on record, the National Weather Service in Melbourne said, with an average overall temperature of 63.9 degrees, 3.3 degrees below its 30-year average. Records in Fort Pierce date back to 1901.

Vero Beach had its ninth coldest March, with an average temperature of 64.6 degrees, 2.8 degrees below the 30-year average. Records date to 1942.

Stuart had its sixth driest March, with 0.43 of an inch of rain for the month. That was 4.57 inches below normal. Records began in 1935.

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NFL Saturday storms

SEVERE STORMS SATURDAY: The Florida panhandle and areas of the northern peninsula will be at risk for severe weather on Saturday. The panhandle is at highest risk while an area from the Nature Coast on the Gulf to Jacksonville will be under a Marginal Risk. Thunderstorms are likely to the south, from north of Tampa east to Daytona Beach. South Florida is at risk for thunderstorms on Thursday, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. (Image credit: NOAA/ SPC/ NWS-Jacksonville)