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.


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.


NOAA ups El Niño chances to 80 percent; Gainesville, Key West notch record highs

ENSO forecast

LATEST ANALYSIS: Probabilities of El Niño, La Niña and neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific through next summer. (Image credit: NOAA/ CPC/International Research Institute for Climate and society/ Columbia University)

Chances of an El Niño event this winter were bumped up to 80 percent Thursday by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, from 70-75 percent in October. There’s also a 55-60 percent chance it will continue into spring, forecasters said.

But the CPC still sees a weak El Niño event, and forecasters at the National Weather Service in Miami have picked up on that with their prediction that not all typical El Niño impacts may show up this winter on the Florida peninsula.

They are calling for increased precipitation across the Florida peninsula with temperatures around normal. The typical El Niño tendency toward more severe weather, particularly in Central Florida, may not show up. Also, the forecast for wetter weather is “low confidence,” forecasters said in their dry season forecast.

In another twist, near normal temperatures are anticipated — in a strong El Niño year temperatures across Florida are slightly depressed, mostly because of cloud cover. Forecasters are also calling for average chances of a freeze or two, along with a near-normal wildfire season.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued its ENSO forecast on Tuesday, and it’s a little less enthusiastic about an impending El Niño.

Forecasters there give it a 70 percent chance of forming, and added a skeptical note: “Sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean have warmed to El Niño levels over the past fortnight. However, atmospheric indicators of El Niño are largely near normal, suggesting that the ocean and atmosphere are not yet reinforcing each other, or ‘coupled’. This reinforcement is critical in any El Niño developing and becoming self-sustaining.”


RECORD WATCH: Gainesville broke a record high Thursday with 89 degrees, easily beating the previous record high for the date of 86 set in 2003. Key West tied a record high with 87, matching the mark set way back in 1955. Sanford tied a record warm low Thursday with 70, matching the record set in 2015.


FL weather history

WEATHER HISTORY: A pair of power-packed low pressure systems slammed the Florida peninsula 50 years ago this weekend. The first spawned a tornado outbreak that killed two people near Naples on November 9, 1968. Two days later, more tornadoes ripped through Naples and Clewiston. (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

A soggy winter forecast; NHC says Atlantic storm ‘likely’

Dry season outlook

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

WET(ISH) WINTER: With a developing El Niño in the tropical Pacific, National Weather Service forecasters are calling for increased precipitation across the Florida peninsula this winter with temperatures around normal. The analysis was released by the National Weather Service in Miami on Thursday.

But there’s a big caveat this winter and that is the El Niño is forecast to be weak, which means that the typical El Niño tendency toward more severe weather, particularly in Central Florida, may not show up this year. Also, the forecast for wetter weather is “low confidence,” forecasters said.

In another twist, near normal temperatures are anticipated — in a strong El Niño year temperatures across Florida are slightly depressed, mostly because of cloud cover. Forecasters are also calling for average chances of a freeze or two, along with a near-normal wildfire season.

Pretty par-for-the-course stuff.

NA Oscillation

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

A bigger issue this season may be the North Atlantic Oscillation pattern. During a positive AO, the jet stream sets up along the northern tier of states while high pressure is perched in the western Atlantic, all of which leads to relatively toasty winter conditions in Florida. The opposite, negative phase dips the jet stream deep into the U.S. Southeast, pushing high pressure away and bringing unusually cold weather to Florida and the Southeast.

Drop this one in the we’ll-see-what-happens category.

Fort Myers precip

The chart shows average dry season rainfall in Fort Myers during various ENSO phases in the tropical Pacific. In a weak El Niño winter, which is in the forecast, rainfall is only slightly above long-term normal. (Image credit: NWS-TampaBay)


CHILLING OUT: A cold front is expected to sweep across the Florida peninsula Friday night and Saturday, with the front crossing the Lake Okeechobee area just before dawn on Saturday. Here’s what the post-cold front temperatures may look like on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service:

Miami, 81 and 66; West Palm Beach, 79 and 69; Naples, 80 and 63; Sebring, 78 and 54; Tampa, 78 and 60; Orlando, 78 and 60; Melbourne, 78 and 55; Daytona Beach, 74 and 55; Gainesville, 74 and 51; Jacksonville, 77 and 58; Lake City, 75 and 55 with a forecast low of 49 on Tuesday morning; and Tallahassee, 71 and 59 with a forecast low of 49 on Tuesday morning.


TROPICS WATCH: Invest 95L east-northeast of the Lesser Antilles “will likely become a tropical or subtropical cyclone later today,” the National Hurricane Center said Friday. If it gets beyond depression status, it would be named Oscar. It’s expected to to move north, then west, but forecast models do not show a threat to the U.S. Coast.

Fall in Florida: Weekend humidity levels take a tumble

Saturday tempsTIME TO CHILL OUT: “Something we haven’t seen in quite some time here in East Central Florida: temperatures in the 60s!” the National Weather Service in Melbourne said on the agency’s Facebook page Saturday. (Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

Saturday’s weather buzz was all about drier air and cooler temperatures, at least in the north and central parts of the state as a frontal boundary hauled in by the tail-end of ex-Hurricane Michael settled over South Florida.

Extreme southern parts of the peninsula were still in Sauna-land, with the relative humidity at Homestead a stuffy 87 percent and a tropical dew point of 76 degrees.

But the relative humidity at Tampa at 10 a.m. Saturday was 55 percent, and dew points were in the upper 50s all along the West-Central Coast. In East-Central Florida, the RH was 61 percent in Daytona Beach and 56 percent in Deland. Humidity had also taken a tumble in North Florida, and the panhandle had some of the driest conditions with dew points as low as 47 degrees and an RH of 47 percent.

The air temperature was an even 70 in Jacksonville with humidity of 54 percent.

Temperatures and humidity levels will be on the rise again around the state, but Saturday morning offered a tantalizing preview of the dry season, which officially begins in South Florida next week but in practical terms will probably take hold on the peninsula over the next couple of weeks.

RECORD WATCH: Steamy conditions continued over much of the peninsula Friday, and Melbourne tied a record high with 91 degrees, matching the mark set way back in 1948.

TROPICS WATCH: Hurricane Leslie was headed for Spain (yes, Spain), where gale-force winds and heavy rain was expected from the storm. But Leslie was forecast to become extra-tropical before its arrival early Sunday EDT. Once Leslie is cleared off the map, no other storms are forecast to develop over the next five days.

Is the hurricane season over? Climatology says two more named storms typically form through the end of hurricane season, which is November 30. Atlantic waters are still warm, but wind shear may be a major factor in keeping storm formation down.

NOAA released its latest El Niño forecast on Thursday and upped chances that the warm water tropical Pacific phenomenon will take hold this winter to 70-75 percent.

“The majority of models … predict El Niño to form during the fall and continue through the winter,” forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center said. “The official forecast favors the formation of a weak El Niño, consistent with the recent strengthening of westerly wind anomalies and positive temperature trends in the surface and subsurface ocean.”

No telling what a “weak” El Niño means specifically for the winter, but in general an El Niño means a stormy winter coming up for the Florida peninsula, and especially for the East-Central Coast.

NOAA sees wetter October-December for Florida

Subtropical Storm Leslie formed in the North Central Atlantic Sunday, apparently destined to be another short-lived system that bumps up 2018 statistics as the 12th named storm of the year.

“Leslie is embedded within very light steering currents, and most likely the cyclone will be meandering today and tomorrow,” said National Hurricane Center forecaster Lixion Avila. “After that time, with the development of the new low to the north, Leslie will likely move east until it becomes absorbed.”

Interesting to note, though, that 12 named storms through September 23 means the Atlantic has already reached its climatological average with more than two full months to go in the hurricane season — the next two or three weeks still being prime time.

On average, four new storms form after September 23, which would cap the season off at 16 named storms. That was at the top end of NOAA’s May preseason forecast.

NOAA trimmed its forecast in August to 9-13 named storms. But that was before tropical activity exploded in September.

The only forecasting entity to predict an exceptionally busy season was North Carolina State University, which in April forecast 14-18 named storms for the Atlantic.



The new 90-day forecast from NOAA suggests a wetter than average fall for Florida. (Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

Many locations around the peninsula now 2-4 inches short on rainfall for September. But a wetter fall through the end of December could be on the way, according to the latest long-range forecast issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center on Thursday.

The forecast calls for the greatest chances of above normal precipitation in Florida, Texas and parts of the Desert Southwest. But much of the U.S. East Coast could see a wetter than normal autumn, with below normal rainfall predicted for the U.S. Northwest.

The prediction for above normal rainfall in Florida is based on chances for a developing El Niño, CPC forecasters said — most likely a weak one. Nevertheless, they put Florida into the wet category based on El Niño and on historical trends.

El Niño is a phenomenon in which above normal water temperatures exist in the eastern and central Tropical Pacific. When that happens, it usually means a wetter winter for Florida, with notably stormier conditions for Central Florida.

Although the CPC has an El Niño Watch in place, chances of one developing during the winter dropped slightly in its September analysis, from 70 percent to 65-70 percent. We’ll have to see if that trend continues as winter approaches.

Shorter-range, the CPC is also predicting a wetter than normal period for Florida from October 6-19. That’s right around the end of the rainy season, so maybe this year’s will go out with a couple of good soakings.

Projected temperatures, by the way, are still above normal, from October through December from Orlando south to Miami and the Keys.



(Image credit: NHC)

TROPICS WATCH: The five-day Atlantic outlook was still awash and reds and yellows on Sunday, but the only system that looks like it will impact land is Invest 98L between Bermuda and the Bahamas. It has a 30 percent chance of developing by the end of the week as it moves toward the coast of the Carolinas, obviously something they don’t need right now.

To the south and east, Tropical depression 11 was forecast to fizzle out on Sunday. And although Tropical Storm Kirk, far to the east, was forecast to continue west across the Atlantic, sliding over the Lesser Antilles Thursday night and Friday morning, it was expected to barely hang on to tropical storm status as it approaches the Caribbean.

“It is possible that Kirk may open up into a trough as it is approaching the Lesser Antilles and moving into the eastern Caribbean Sea,” NHC forecast Robbie Berg said Sunday.

Two other systems in the North-Central Atlantic had a 70 percent chance and a 30 percent chance of development, but they appeared to be no threat to the U.S.


RECORD WATCH: Melbourne logged a record warm minimum temperature Saturday with 80 degrees. That tied the record set in 2009.

Yay! A slew of Florida cities posted high temperatures below 90 on Saturday. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, Orlando, and West Palm Beach all checked in with highs of 89. Jacksonville was 88. The cool spots around the peninsula were Daytona Beach and Fort Pierce, where it was 87.

If you’re looking for at least a hint of cooler weather, temperatures in Brooksville and Crestview Saturday bottomed out at 70.

Focus on tropics as peak of season nears; weighing winter forecasts

It’s almost September, the time of the year to look at tropical waves more closely for signs of development. A system that may approach the state next weekend is getting some attention.

The National Hurricane Center Tropical Weather Outlook map predicts clear sailing for the next five days in the Atlantic. The Canadian forecast model (CMC), is not exactly the gold standard when it comes to tropical weather prediction. Nonetheless, it has been consistent over the last couple of days in showing a system in the vicinity of the Florida peninsula spinning up late in the week.

Friday runs were taking the low through the Keys or across northern Cuba, then into the Gulf of Mexico. Saturday runs were keeping it east of the Bahamas and then drilling into the Carolinas on Labor Day.

It’s something to keep an eye on as the final week of August unfolds.

The National Weather Service in Melbourne had this to say on Saturday: “Both the ECM/GFS show a tropical wave approaching the Bahamas Friday and south Florida by Saturday, which would portend increasing rain chances.

“Given the rather hostile MDR (Main Development Region of the tropical Atlantic) conditions thus far in 2018, model guidance has been somewhat less than stellar in it accuracy/continuity with strength/position of waves within and emanating from the MDR thus far in August, so the standard caveats apply for day 7-8 forecasts being prone to changes w/r/t synoptic features.

“Nevertheless this is the first wave of the season that the model guidance has shown approaching the state with any sort of amplitude, which shows that September is almost here.”

HOPE FOR HAWAII: Lane was downgraded to a tropical storm late Friday, but parts of the Hawaiian Island were dealing with “epic rainfall,” the Honolulu Star Advertiser said, with amounts of up to 30 inches.

But the consensus seemed to be that the islands had dodged a bullet in terms of wind damage. As it was making its anticipated turn to the west, away from Hawaii, winds maxed out at 65 mph after the storm was knocked around by wind shear.


HOT AND COLD RUNNING FORECASTS: The upcoming winter will bring “teeth-chattering cold” to the North with plenty of snow, with normal temperatures and wet weather in the Southeast, according to the newly-issued “sneak peek” Farmers’ Almanac forecast. It was released under the headline: “Frosty Forecast Melts Rumors of Mild Winter.”

The publication says: “So just how cold will it be? The real teeth-chattering arrives mid-February especially in the following zones: Northeast/New England, Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, Midwest, and Southeast (yes, even the Southeast will be in the chill zone!).”

It’s a bit at odds with what normally happens during an El Niño winter.


Typical impacts on North America during an El Niño winter. (Image credit: NOAA)

NOAA says there’s a 70 percent chance of an El Niño for the upcomng winter, and that usually means warmer than normal temps across the northern tier of states, with drier weather from the Mississippi River east to the Applachians but wet conditions across the South, including Florida.

The book on Florida during an El Niño winter is wet conditions through the peninsula and abnormally cool temperatures, the Florida Climate Center at Florida State University says.

But the “cool” part of the forecast is because El Niño usually brings more cloudy weather to the state, not because Florida is more vulnerable to Arctic cold fronts.

Central Florida often suffers through multiple tornado events. Some of the worst outbreaks in the state’s history have occurred during El Niño winters.


The chart looks at general trends in Florida weather during El Niño, La Nina and neutral conditions in the Pacific. (Credit: Florida Climate Center)


RECORD WATCH: Gainesville set a rainfall record Friday with 3.73 inches. That beat the old record for the date of 3.45 inches set in 1993. Tallahassee reporded 2.68 inches Friday, also a record for the date. The previous mark was 2.11 inches set in 2008.

NOAA hikes El Niño chances again; major impacts possible for Florida

Weather prepared

WEATHER GRAPHIC OF THE DAY: Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Key West ask: “Why are victims in horror movies not prepared? Don’t be a victim of hazardous weather. Be prepared.” Their Facebook page has a link to a NOAA website on National Weather Safety Tips, from air quality to heat, fog and rip currents. No major weather hazards on the radar today; keep your fingers crossed. By the way, this is the last Friday the 13th until September 2019. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

FLORIDA WINTER WEATHER ALERT: Looks like it’s going to be one of those winters in Florida again — chances of El Niño developing for the 2018-2019 winter jumped to 70 percent in the new NOAA analysis issued Thursday. Chances of it occurring in autumn are at 65 percent, which should have a significant impact on the end of the Atlantic hurricane season.

In June, NOAA issued an El Niño Watch and put El Niño chances for the fall at 50 percent and 65 percent for the winter.

El Niño, unusually warm waters in the tropical Pacific, keeps wind shear cranking in the Atlantic, which puts a lid on tropical storm development. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that El Niño tends to bring very stormy winter weather to the Florida peninsula, including an uptick in tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Central Florida is particularly at risk.


A TREND THAT’S NOT YOUR FRIEND: A record high minimum temperature was observed in Key West Thursday — the third day this month that a record warm low was set or tied.

Record high minimum temperatures are as common as burnt toast around the Florida peninsula, especially on the East Coast. One reason is that water temperatures in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are so often above normal that any overnight sea breeze tends to keep temperatures mild.

This trend has been picking up steam since 2000. In Miami, for example, 142 record warm lows have been tied or set since 2000 — that’s 39 percent having occurred in this century even though temperature records in Miami go back 123 years to 1895.

Florida residents are accustomed to hot days and balmy nights, but this is a nationwide trend that has more dire implications.

The New York Times reported Wednesday: “Nights Are Warming Faster Than Days. Here’s Why That’s Dangerous.”

It’s risky in places where fewer people have air conditioning because they’ve never needed it in the past. With nighttime heat, the body doesn’t get as much of a chance to cool down. (Burlington, Vermont had a low on July 2 of 80, the warmest low temperature ever recorded for the city.)

In places like Vermont — and even in coastal California — “people are less physiologically acclimated (the body can get used to higher temperatures up to a point) and less behaviorally adapted to hot weather,” The Times’ Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich noted.


TROPICS WATCH: Stick a fork in ex-Tropical Storm Beryl — it’s likely cooked. The National Hurricane Center knocked chances of redevelopment down from as high as 50 percent to 20 percent on Friday, when the sprawling system was located 300 miles west of Bermuda.

“The associated shower and thunderstorm activity remains disorganized due to strong upper-level winds,” the NHC said in its Tropical Weather Outlook. “These winds are expected to become even less conducive for subtropical or tropical development over the next day or two while the low moves north-northeastward at about 10 mph, and additional development will be limited once the low reaches colder waters by Saturday night or Sunday.”