July - September, 2014
Across the state, spring 2014 saw near normal temperatures and much above normal precipitation, so the lack of wildfire activity during the typical peak of the state’s wildfire activity is perhaps not a big surprise. However, looking at statewide numbers hides a regional split within Florida this spring. Despite near normal temperatures across the state, South Florida actually saw a warmer than normal spring, with coastal Southeast Florida just barely missing out on a top 10 year. However, a cooler than normal spring in the Panhandle was able to average out the state ranking. The split in precipitation was also dramatic. South Florida saw near or below normal rainfall this spring, and it’s no surprise that the heaviest fire activity was seen in this area. However, it was more than outweighed by heavier rain to the north, where the Panhandle saw its second rainiest spring on record, and we had a 5th rainiest spring in the northern peninsula. June rainfall, on the other hand, has seen a bit of a reversal in the pattern we saw this spring. South Florida has been relatively wet, while the rest of the state has been drier.
In the Tropical Pacific, the presence of a large, extremely warm pool of subsurface water this spring showed at least the potential for an extremely strong El Niño event, perhaps rivaling that of 1997-1998. As the spring progressed though, atmospheric patterns did not become more Niño-like. So, while the surface waters in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) regions have been warming, that subsurface warm pool has begun to moderate and shrink. In the past several weeks, the ENSO regions have been near the El Niño mark, but will need to continue to warm and finally see the atmospheric portion of the oscillation match up for an El Niño event to initiate.
Long-Range Weather Outlook
Despite recent conditions, the development of an El Niño later this summer or this fall is still expected. Its intensity is still a matter of significant uncertainty. A warm neutral period rather than an El Niño is still possible, but unlikely. A strong El Niño also remains a possibility but has a lower probability than it appeared earlier in the year. A moderate-strength El Niño is a reasonable forecast. It likely means little in the short term, but how quickly the El Niño develops could become a factor late in the forecast period, particularly in terms of impact on the hurricane season. As El Niño tends to increase shear in the Atlantic Basin, hurricane activity is typically reduced, though even inactive seasons have featured destructive, landfalling storms. In the short term, dynamic models suggest a stronger than normal subtropical ridge, implying higher than normal temperatures this month, though that may be tempered by high soil moistures. Further out, the potential for warmer temperatures is forecast to continue through September. Precipitation forecasts are relatively unclear, and the Climate Prediction Center predicts equal chances of above, near, or below normal precipitation through the next few months. Though the focus of the prediction is focused more on areas of the Central Gulf Coast, parts of the Panhandle are given a slightly higher chance of below normal precipitation. If the trend so far this month is any indication, this may not be unreasonable. Regardless, high impact events, like a landfalling tropical cyclone, could ruin an otherwise accurate forecast, which must always be a consideration in hurricane season.
Summary and Fire Potential Outlook
In recent months, Florida has seen generally near normal temperatures and above normal rainfall, resulting in generally diminished wildfire activity. Parts of South Florida were an exception to this trend. Running warmer and drier, that area saw a correspondingly higher amount of wildfire activity compared to elsewhere in the state. Despite some slowness in seeing the development of El Niño conditions, an El Niño event later this year is still quite likely, though not guaranteed. While the impacts on weather for Florida may be somewhat limited, it will become more important in the months beyond this forecast. If El Niño does develop by the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, we are likely to see less tropical cyclone activity than normal. However, this may mean little, as destructive hurricanes can still strike Florida in less active seasons. The summer months, with frequent rainfall events, tend to see less wildfire activity, and this summer should be no different. While parts of the Panhandle are forecast by the Climate Prediction Center to have a slight tendency to a drier summer, the lingering impact of such a wet spring should minimize concern for increased wildfire activity.
The next seasonal outlook will be the first week in October, 2014. Should there be any questions, please contact Sean.Luchs@FreshFromFlorida.com
Drought Outlook (NOAA)