Snow cover approaches Gulf Coast in latest analysis

A WINTRY LANDSCAPE: Snow coverage has reached deep into the south this month. (Image credit: NOAA)

Almost half of the U.S. was under snow cover as of Monday, according to the National Weather Service’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.

Snow cover stands at 44.7 percent, compared with 12.4 percent a month ago and 34.7 percent on January 11, 2020; and 27.7 percent on January 11, 2019. In fact, you have to go back to January 11, 2016 to find a greater percentage of snow cover on this date — 58.3 percent.

And this year’s snow cover has penetrated unsually far south, through Central Texas and into Central and Northern Louisiana. Snow cover nears the Gulf Coast in Eastern Texas.

The last time it snowed in Florida was in December 2017, when a dusting was reported in the western panhandle, according to the Miami Herald. In January 2014, an inch was reported at the Pensacola Regional Airport. South Florida hasn’t officially reported snow since 1977.

*

(Image credit: Betty Nelander)

The low in West Palm Beach Sunday was 42 degrees, enough to send stunned iguanas crashing down from trees. I found this iguana in my backyard Sunday morning, and at first I thought it was dead. On closer inspection, though, it was barely moving and I saw its eyes blink.

I left it alone while I went for a bike ride and by the time I got back, it had sufficiently warmed up to get its slushy blood circulating, and it was gone.

During a previous cold snap, I did see one definitely dead iguana on Flagler Drive.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been cold enough to make much of a dent in the population of this invasive species in South Florida, But iguanas that sought to further expand their territory into Central Florida no doubt discovered this year that the environment was a little more hostile than South Florida and the Keys.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, green iguanas have been spotted as far north as the Gainesville area, but there’s no way they’re going to make it through this winter up there.

Key West record: 122 days with 80-plus degree lows

(Image credit: NOAA)

THURSDAY UPDATE: The next cold front was racing across the Gulf of Mexico toward the Florida peninsula Thursday morning. It was forecast to arrive on the peninsula’s southwest coast around 4 a.m. Friday, dragging cold air behind it. Another chilly weekend will follow, according to the National Weather Service.

Sunday morning will see the coldest temperatures. Forecast lows: Miami, 54; West Palm Beach and Naples, 48; Orlando, 40; Tampa, 43; Gainesville, 33 (with widespread frost); Jacksonville, 36 (with areas of frost); Lake City, 32 (widespread frost); and Tallahassee, 33 (ditto).

If it’s any consolation, and I think it is, the same storm system is forecast to dump snow Friday in eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia. So Florida remains a desired destination, with its relatively palatable weather this weekend.

*

2020 weather highlights in the Florida Keys. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

KEYS YEAR IN REVIEW: 2020 was the second-warmest year on record in Key West and the fourth-warmest in Marathon, the National Weather Service said this week.

“Helping to fuel the warmer year was an abundance of warmer low temperatures,” the Weather Service said in a report, with 103 daily warm overnight temperature records set or tied in Marathon and Key West, where records date back to 1872 (1950 in Marathon).

Monthly warm minimum temperature records were set or tied in Key West in March, April, May, June, and September.

Another notable stat: Key West had 122 days in 2020 in which the low failed to drop below 80 degrees, more than double the annual average of 53 days.

“It was also a wet year. Marathon measured 64.55 inches of rainfall last year, putting it at 18.38 inches above normal and the second wettest year on record.

“Key West measured 52.30 inches of rainfall, 12.47 inches above normal,” putting it in the top 10 percent of wettest years in the island’s 150-year history.

Click here for the full report.

South Florida could have coldest Christmas in 21 years, Weather Service says

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

After more than a decade of balmy holiday temps, South Florida could be headed for the coldest Christmas since 1999, according to National Weather Service forecasters in Miami.

Saturday morning temperatures could bottom out in the low 30s in interior areas, with low- to mid-40s on the coasts. Most areas will have wind chills in the 30s.

Sebring, for example, may hover right around the freezing mark with a forecast low of 34.

With Impacts from the Christmas Eve/ Christmas Day cold front coming into better focus, it looks like the Nature Coast will be in the deep freeze, with a forecast low in Brooksville of 28 degrees.

Even in the Keys, forecasters are calling for lows in Key West and Marathon of 55 and 52 — with the Upper Keys falling into the 40s.

One good bit of news (although I realize some people relish these cold snaps since Florida is home to heat and humidity six to nine months out of the year) is that a warm-up should begin Saturday afternoon courtesy of the warm waters of the Atlantic.

The Canadian high pressure system parked over the Southeastern U.S. is expected to move off the East Coast, bringing northeast to easterly winds to the Florida peninsula.

By the way, the GFS model is calling for a toastier New Year’s Day, with possible highs in the 80s in Central and South Florida. But that’s followed by another potent cold front later in the weekend.

Of course that’s 11 days away and subject to revision, but Weather Underground’s forecast high for New Year’s Eve in Miami is 79.

Winter rolls in with cold front Monday; planetary anticipation peaks

As winter officially arrives, here’s a look at Sunday snow cover after last week’s storm in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Cold temperatures have kept the snow from melting and in some places it’s topped with a layer of ice. (Image credit: NOAA)

‘TIS THE SEASON: Winter 2020-21 will creep in while you sleep early Monday morning. It arrives at 5:02 a.m. EST, when the sun will be at its farthest point south on the planet, the Tropic of Capricorn.

On cue, another cold front will be slicing across the Florida peninsula right about that time, bringing slightly below normal temperatures. Another more potent cold front arrives on Christmas Eve.

Spring arrives on Saturday March 20 at 5:37 a.m., hopefully bringing with it some cheerier times.

SPEAKING OF WHICH: From the National Weather Service office in Mebourne this morning on Facebook: “Guess what today is?!?! It’s the start of the last FULL WEEK of 2020! Whew! The finish line is in sight, y’all.”

(Image credit: NASA via NWS-TampaBay)

NO, IT’S NOT THE DAWNING OF THE AGE OF AQUARIUS. That requires Jupiter aligning with Mars. But it is the “great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn,” which occurs Monday evening. “Look to the southwest about 45 minutes to 1 hour after sunset,” the National Weather Service office in Tampa says.

This is an event that occurs about once every 20 years. One theory holds that the alignment was actually the legendary star of Bethlehem. although the alignment doesn’t always occur at Christmas.

Usually, the separation between the two planets is about 1 degree, according to Space.com. But this time the separation is a mere tenth of a degree, something that hasn’t happened in at least 400 years.

The last time the planets appeared so close was on July 16, 1623, but that phenomenon was only visible in the tropics.

“The last time most of the world’s population had a favorable view of these two planets coming so close to each other was on March 5, 1226,” said Space.com writer Joe Rao.

Anniversary: Historic T-Day storm battered Florida coast

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

This is the 36th anniversary of the Thanksgiving storm that pounded Florida’s East Coast, dumping 7.41 inches of rain in West Palm Beach and causing $38 million in damage. The storm, centered in the Bahamas, led to coastal flooding and major beach erosion from November 22-24, 1984.

An intense extra-tropical cyclone, it was responsible for the grounding of the Venezuelan freighter, Mercedes I for several months in Palm Beach. Getting the ship off the beach in the exclusive resort town became a media sensation.

It was eventually removed and sunk off Fort Lauderdale to create an artifician reef.

The system may have become a subtropical storm as it swiped Bermuda, and in fact it went into the record books for the busy 1984 hurricane season as Tropical Depression 19.

The season ended with 20 tropical depressions, 13 tropical storms, five hurricanes and one major, the busiest season since 1971. The grand finale was Hurricane Lili, which formed near Bermuda and did a loop in the Atlantic before becoming an 80 mph hurricane. It tracked south and then east, threatening the Greater Antilles.

It finally dissipated off the coast of Hispaniola on Christmas Eve. It was one of only four hurricanes in history to form in December.

NOT THIS YEAR: The Thanksgiving week forecast looks stellar for Florida, with sunshine and highs in the 70s and 80s. Much cooler weather is on the way for the first week in December.

*

TROPICS WATCH: National Hurricane Center forecasters upped chances for subtropical development of the disturbance east of the Bahamas from 10 to 20 percent over the next five days. It was projected to move toward the northeast, away from the U.S.

Early hurricanes play role in making later storms stronger; tropics turn quiet

Hurricane Laura became the first major hurricane of the 2020 season on August 26 as it neared the northern Gulf Coast. (Image credit: NOAA)

A “marine heat wave” likely contributed to the rapid intensification of hurricanes Laura and Sally before they slammed ashore in August and September as Category 4 and 2 storms. The same is true with Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. They believe that the storms, which hit Louisiana and
Alabama, respectively, were aided in their intensification by previous storms (this year’s Hanna and Marco) that pulled cooler water from the depths. Once that water rewarms at the surface, that area is “primed” for a rapid intensification event, researchers say.

“This work shows that understanding the preceding weather conditions in a region where a storm is going to make landfall can improve interpretation of hurricane model forecasts and what the storm is likely to do prior to landfall,” said Brian Dzwonkowski, a physical oceanographer with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Associate Professor at the University of South Alabama in the Department of Marine Sciences.

Dzwonkowski and his team collected heat data from a a mooring site off Dauphin Island’s coastline. They found that the period prior to the landfall of Hurricane Michael turned out to be the warmest ocean conditions during this time period in the 13-year record.

“Turns out hurricanes and atmospheric heatwaves will be getting stronger in a warming world which would indicate the identified sequence of events that generate these extreme conditions may become more frequent,” he said.

“The occurrence of extreme heat content events, like marine heatwaves has significant implications for a broad range of scientific management interests beyond hurricane intensity.”

Mechanisms that generated these marine heat waves are forecast to become more common and intense due to climate change.

*

RAINFALL REPORT: Thursday’s heaviest rains fell in Miami-Dade County. A CoCoRaHS observer in Aventura, northeastern Miami-Dade County, reported 3.56 inches. An an observer near Homestead reported 2.53 inches.

This weekend’s rain event is still on track, with a warm front cruising up the peninsula from Cuba, but October may have a cooler and drier start, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

TROPICS WATCH: Outside of the remnants of Beta in the southeastern U.S., there are no tropical systems on the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Weather Outlook map. Forecast models are suggesting that a quiet period is coming up.

HAVEN’T SEEN THIS IN A WHILE: The Tropical Weather Outlook map Friday afternoon was clear for the first time since we entered the peak of the hurricane season back in August. (Image credit: NHC)

Forecasters see cool start to October; wet weekend forecast for Florida

(Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

Hmmm … decreasing tropical activity, cooler and drier weather … looks like we’re headed in the right direction!

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued its forecast for the first week of October — showing below normal temperatures in Florida from the panhandle south through the Central Florida peninsula. Temps in South Florida may be near normal, the agency said.

“We just got our first glimpse of fall over the weekend with temperatures below average and it looks like we’re in for more,” National Weather Service forecasters in Tallahassee said Wednesday. “Looking ahead 8 to 14 days, the area will see an increased chance for below normal temperatures to start October.”

Precipitation is expected to be close to average in South Florida but below average in Central and North Florida and the panhandle, an interesting call since this is still the height of a very active hurricane season.

What do below average temperatures look like in Florida during the first week of October? in Miami, normal for the first week of October is a high of 87-88, with a normal low of 75-76. In Orlando, 86-88; and a normal low of 69-70. (It’s been as cold as 46 in Orlando the first week in October, but a series of record lows during that period were all set in the 1920s.)

Tampa normals: 86-87 and 71-72. Tallahassee normals: 84-85 and 61-63. (It’s been as cold as 38 in Tallahassee the first week of October. That happened on October 5, 1986.)

TROPICS WATCH: Beta dissipated into a remnant low in Texas, and Teddy became post-tropical, leaving no active tropical storms on the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Weather Outlook map Thursday. Teddy could cause tropical storm conditions in the Canadian Maritimes, however.

The disturbance forecasters said could develop from the frontal system that skidded through South Florida and the Keys Monday was no longer a threat, but the front remains on track to come back up as a warm front from Cuba at the end of the week and bring the potential for heavy rain to the Florida peninsula.

Beyond that, though, there are no areas of interest on the NHC map, and it looks like we may be headed for an intermission of some sort, with activity likely switching to the Caribbean and western Atlantic in October.

“Tropics wise, both the ECMWF and GFS show a fairly progressive pattern behind Teddy, with no Bermuda high setting back up,” National Weather Service forecasters in Miami said Wednesday. “They both show a lack of significant tropical activity through the end of the forecast period for South Florida, and the Atlantic in general.”

ONE CAVEAT: The GFS continues to insist that a tropical disturbance will form in the western Caribbean a week from Saturday and move into the Gulf of Mexico early the following week, with a potential to hook into Florida. Other models don’t seem to be backing this up.

One thing for sure though: The hurricane season isn’t over, so we need to remain vigilant at least until the pumpkins have been taken off the front porch and the Spiderman costumes have been put away.

The season officially ends November 30 but in 2005, it continued well into December.

Forecasters eye tropical development for front moving through South Florida

(Image credit: NWS-Miami)

An Excessive Rainfall alert was posted by NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center for Florida’s southeast coast today. Minor flooding was reported to the National Weather Service this afternoon. In addition, the Florida coastline is still dealing with seasonal high tide flooding. (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

A disturbance marked by the yellow X is forecast to move south toward Cuba and slide back to the north by the end of the week. (Image credit: NHC)

Parts of the Florida peninsula were hit with heavy rain Sunday, but coverage was spotty. A member of the CoCoRaHS observation network reported that LaBelle, in Hendry County, was slammed with 7.14 inches through early Monday morning.

In Volusia County, an observer west of New Smyrna Beach measured 5.70 inches in the backyard bucket. And an observer near Sanford, Seminole County, checked in with 4.09 inches.

Farther south, an observer in Delray Beach reported 3.07 inches and an observer west of Boca Raton reported 2.32 inches.

In Broward County, an observer near Weston reported 2.20 inches.

The frontal boundary over South Florida will move south into Cuba through mid-week, then make a U-turn and head back to the Keys and South Florida. On its return, the National Hurricane Center is giving the disturbance a 20 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm by the weekend.

No matter what happens, or doesn’t happen, with development of the system, the National Weather Service in Miami is warning of a potentially big rain event for South Florida by the end of the week.

“While there is currently plenty of uncertainty with the evolution of the long-range pattern (owing to many sub-synoptic scale interactions), a dramatic uptick in convection can`t be ruled out across South Florida as we move into the weekend,” NWS forecasters said Monday.

RECORD WATCH: Gainesville tied a record warm low Sunday with 74, matching the mark set in 2004.

HURRICANE HISTORY: Sunday was the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Rita swiping the Keys on its way to becoming a Category 5 storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Rita brought hurricane-force gusts to the Lower Keys along with storm surge and flooding rains. (Image credit: NWS-Key West)

Panhandle bailing out after Hurricane Sally hit; NOAA releases new fall forecast

AUTUMN OUTLOOK: The new long-range forecast was issued today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, calling for above normal temperatures for October in Florida and above average precipitation over the peninsula, but not the panhandle. The longer range outlook for October through December calls for warmer than normal temperatures in Florida with equal chances of above or below normal rainfall. Typically, La Niña winters in Florida are warm and relatively dry. (Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

*

HURRICANE SALLY: The storm dumped record rainfall across the Florida panhandle Wednesday. Apalachicola reported 7.85 inches, wiping out a 65-year-old record for the date of 2.54 inches set in 1955. Tallahassee picked up 3.89 inches.

Pensacola reported more than 20 inches as the city took the brunt of the Category 2 hurricane. The Pensacola Naval Air Station reported 30 inches.

A CoCoRaHS observer near Marianna in the central panhandle measured 7.17 inches, and that was typical, with heavier rain to the west near Pensacola. In fact, downtown Pensacola experienced catastrophic flooding, with many cars completely submerged. Emergency personnel were getting around on jet skis.

The Pensacola New Journal reported that 92 percent of Escambia County was without power Thursday morning, 53 percent of Santa Rosa County.

Click here for a photo gallery of damage caused by the storm in the western panhandle.

Interestingly, Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama — the same place where 16 years earlier Hurricane Ivan made landfall on the same date.

*

(Image credit: NHC)

TROPICS WATCH: Tropical Storm Wilfred — the final name in the World Meteorological Organization’s 2020 bag — may be forming in the western Gulf of Mexico. After that, we’re going to be looking for Tropical Storm Alpha.

The disturbance, designated Invest 90L by the National Hurricane Center, was expected to begin moving north or northeast, forecasters said. But models are all over the place with this, from the North-Central Gulf Coast (again) to the coast of Northeastern Mexico.

Meanwhile, the storms in the Central and Eastern Atlantic look like they’ll stay away from the U.S. Coast. And the NHC issued its last advisory on Tropical Depression Sally in eastern Alabama.

The GFS is suggesting that the Florida peninsula could skate through the rest of the month without any tropical threats, and other models, including the European (ECMWF) back that idea up for the next 10 days. But, as we saw with Sally, localized storms can spin up quickly this time of the year.

*

RECORD WATCH: Fort Lauderdale posted a record warm low Wednesday with 83 degrees. That beat the old record of 82 set in 2007. Key West scored a record warm low with 84, beating the record of 83 set just a year ago.

Orlando sets rainfall record; Atlantic awash in tropical disturbances

If there were a record for the number of tropical systems being monitored, this might be a contender: Seven Six (as of 2 p.m.) were on the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Outlook Map on Thursday morning, the official peak of the hurricane season. (Image credit: NHC)

MODEL SNAPSHOTS: The disturbance coming off the coast of Africa today — which was given a 90 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm by Tuesday — takes a track similar to Hurricane Irma a few years ago in its 06Z run and runs up the northern coast of Cuba a week from Monday. Then it goes into the Keys and up Florida’s West Coast.

(Speaking of Irma, today is the third anniversary of the storm smacking the Keys and the Florida peninsula. Click here for a video of Irma after it left the northern coast of Cuba on its way to hammering Florida.)

The European (ECMWF) has the storm on Cuba’s north coast at the end of its run a week from Sunday.

The Canadian (CMC) has the hurricane over Haiti at the end of its run a week from Sunday.

Note that the GFS puts out four models per day, so between now and a week from Monday there will be 44 different opinions on where the storm will go — and that’s just the GFS.

The other disturbance of interest to Florida is the one northeast of the Bahamas. This is forecast to slide west into the Florida peninsula, or possibly the Keys, tomorrow and Saturday. After it enters the Gulf of Mexico, it has a 30 percent chance of development, up from 20 percent on Wednesday.

National Weather Service forecasters in Miami: “As we move into Friday, a disturbance in the Bahamas will drift westward across the Florida peninsula. While the National Hurricane Center is currently monitoring this system for development, the development area is in the Gulf of Mexico once it already passes South Florida. Regardless, the forecast remains unchanged for South Florida with continued wet pattern of showers and thunderstorms across the region with heavy rainfall and flooding concerns through the day Friday.”

Precipitation probabilities remain high on Saturday at around 70 percent in South Florida and Central Florida; 50 percent in the Keys.

Another new disturbance in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico was given a 20 percent chance when it reaches the northern Gulf, after which it is forecast to swing around to the southwest and approach the coast of northeastern Mexico.

And yet another system is expected to move off the coast of Africa this weekend. It was given a 40 percent chance of development.

The only disturbance that looks like it’s about to fizzle out is the one off the Carolina coast, which had shown some promise earlier in the week. But on Thursday it had a near-zero percent chance because it’s expected to move inland this afternoon.

*

RECORD WATCH: Orlando was absolutely clobbered Wednesday with 4.05 inches of rain, a new record for the date. The previous record was 2.73 inches set in 1964.

COLD FRONT WATCH: Not for Florida, of course. But the front forecast to bring an early fall chill to the central U.S. has moved through Chicago, where the forecast high today is 64 degrees; 60 in Minneapolis, where the 9 a.m. temp was 40. A Frost Advisory was posted for areas west of Minneapolis.

RAINFALL REPORT: Most of the action was in Central Florida Wednesday. A CoCoRaHS observer just north of Spring Hill reported a 4.75-inch deluge. Parts of Orange County had in excess of 4 inches (see Record Watch above), and an observer near Kissimmee reported 3.21 inches.

In the Keys, an observer on Big Pine Key reported 3.63 inches.

*

(Image credit: NHC)

WATCH THE DICE ROLL: National Weather Service forecasters in Melbourne had an interesting take on the peak of the hurricane season, comparing the year to a game. Not a bad comparison considering all the crazy twists and turns that have characterized life since January 1.

“Congratulations! In the game of 2020, we’ve officially made it to the peak of hurricane season (today). No tropical activity in today’s forecast, but we will still see numerous showers & storms area-wide later. Use the time this morning before afternoon thunderstorms roll in to review your hurricane plan & restock your kit.”

IT’S OFFICIAL: As expected, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued a La Niña Advisory today and said there is a 75 percent chance that the phenomenon will continue through winter 2020-21.

La Niña means cooler-than-normal water in the Tropical Pacific, which has a lot of implications for North America. One, which we are already seeing, is more tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic due to lower wind shear. The other is a warm and dry winter for Florida.

So — if we can make it through the hurricane season intact, looks like we’ll have a nice winter coming up.