January 2016 proved to be a wet month for the state of Florida. The bulk of January’s showers were fueled by low-pressure systems that originated over the Gulf, containing ample amounts of moisture and moving northeastward through the southeastern U.S., Rainfall affected the entire state as multiple warm and cold front passages moved through Florida during January. Central and South Florida saw the largest surpluses due to the cold fronts stalling over these areas and providing long-duration rainfall events. Many areas of FFS Region 4 encountered rainfall surpluses above 8 inches in January.
February’s weather in Florida did not mirror January’s. Much less upper-level energy within the jet stream was available over the state in February, which led to weaker frontal systems, weaker lifting and less rainfall. Additionally, in February there was much more high-pressure ridging over the state, which put in place a more stable environment that limited rainfall events throughout the month. Overall, about 60 percent of the state saw below-average rainfall totals for the month of February while the remaining 40 percent saw around average to above-average.
During March, high-pressure ridging became more frequent, which continued to limit the amount of rainfall the state saw. Stable conditions dominated throughout much of March with only about one rain event occurring per week on average. Overall, many areas of the state saw below-average rainfall this March, excluding FFS Region 1, which saw above-average rainfall events in mid and late March, and south-central FFS Region 3, which saw above-average rainfall from a late-March event. The largest deficit for rainfall in the last 90 days has occurred over the FFS Region 2 area, which the U.S. Drought Monitor has placed under abnormally dry drought intensity.
On average, Florida saw above-average temperatures January through March with the warmest anomalies occurring in the northwest Florida region.
Long-Range Weather Outlook
Looking ahead into April, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently predicting above-average precipitation for the entire state, with the greatest possibilities occurring in Central and South Florida. This could indicate multiple widespread rainfall events throughout April, which would slightly resemble what Florida saw in January; however, if rainfall totals do stay above-average this April, they will most likely be less than what was experienced earlier this year. April is usually one of the driest months of the year for Florida. Additionally, the CPC is forecasting equal chances for below-average, average, or above-average temperatures throughout the entire state through the month of April.
The CPC is forecasting above-average rainfall totals throughout the April through June period of 2016. This scenario would be beneficial considering that mid-June would take us into the end of Florida’s average wildfire season. June is the wettest month of the year in Florida. Additionally, the CPC is predicting warmer-than-average temperatures throughout the entire state for April through June, with the east coast seeing the greatest chances for warmer temperatures. These warmer-than-average temperatures could lead to an early onset of a summertime-rainfall regime in which convective thunderstorms are fueled by high instability and the convergence of sea breezes over the coastal and interior areas of the state in the afternoons. Early onset of summer weather patterns would aid in the above-average rainfall forecast.
Although there has been a cooling trend in the equatorial Pacific lately, sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the equatorial Pacific remain above the threshold for El Niño conditions. An upwelling of cooler water has slowly been surfacing near the equatorial Pacific, but has had difficulty significantly cooling the waters closer to the surface in the past couple months. The CPC expects the SSTs to continue the cooling trend, dropping conditions down into an El Niño-neutral phase by late spring/early summer of 2016. However, considering the time of year this transition occurs, it will likely have little impact on Florida’s weather.
Summary and Fire Potential Outlook
So overall, a wet start to the year in January has since given way to a drier trend over the months of February and March due to multiple high-pressure ridging events in the lower atmosphere, which suppressed convection and brought drier air masses to the state. The CPC, however, expects a shift in this trend over the next three months, predicting a wetter-than-average three-month period between April and June. This would be very beneficial to the current wildfire season given that April and May are generally some of the driest months in Florida. Additionally, warmer-than-average temperatures are being predicted by the CPC, which could give an earlier start to the summertime weather patterns normal to Florida. These patterns include convective thunderstorms in the afternoon fueled by afternoon instability and convection.
The CPC is also expecting the current El Niño conditions to cool over the rest of the spring before transitioning into an El Niño-neutral phase in the late spring to early summer. Considering that El Niño’s effects on the atmosphere in Florida usually only occur during the wintertime, this transition will likely have little impact on Florida’s upcoming weather. The wetter-than-average forecast for the next three months could reduce the number of days for optimal prescribed burning conditions; however, it will lessen the chance of any severe wildfire activity.
The next seasonal outlook will be the first week in July 2016.
Drought Outlook (NOAA)