Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Fire Weather Outlook

January – March 2018

Updated December 13, 2017

Recent Conditions

Fall is usually one of the driest seasons for the State of Florida, and this fall was no exception. Statewide, October’s rainfall averaged just under five inches. This decreased to just 1.5 inches of rain for November. Notably, the Panhandle received less than an inch for that month, with Pensacola tying a record for the lowest amount of rainfall with only 0.09 inches. Due to the lack of rainfall in November, the National Drought Monitor has classified all of the Panhandle, Big Bend, and much of the Suwanee Valley as abnormally dry. An area including the eastern half of the Panhandle and western half of the Big Bend is classified as being in a moderate drought. Statewide KBDI hit a peak of around 540 in mid-November, before falling off slightly due to statewide rainfall during the week of Thanksgiving.

Temperatures also trended above average for much of fall. Most of Florida had a handful of days where the maximum temperature was 90 or above in October, a month which typically sees the state start to cool off from the summer heat. There were two exceptions: the first was the reporting station in Orlando, which was the only station to report a slightly below average maximum temperature for the month. The second was in Melbourne, which reported zero days where the temperature exceeded 89 degrees. No station had a below average minimum for October nor November. In addition, no station reported a below average maximum for October.

Long-Range Weather Outlook

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued a La Niña Advisory with the November 9 discussion, which means La Niña conditions are present in the Pacific Ocean. It is forecast to continue at least into late spring. During La Niña, the southeastern United States tends to experience a dryer and warmer winter. While we saw some very warm conditions during the first part of December, we’ve stayed at or below average due to several cold fronts sweeping through the state—North Florida even saw its first freeze of the season during the weekend of December 9-11.
Cool to mild conditions should persist for the rest of December. For the forecast period from January to March 2018, Florida has a moderate chance of seeing above average temperatures, mostly due to La Niña. Typically, La Niña keeps the jet stream further north than usual, which keeps cooler air bottled up in the northern half of the country. Consequently, it will also keep any precipitation generally to the north as well; the CPC has given all of Florida a higher chance to see below average rainfall during the forecast period.
The forecast lack of rainfall for January through March also means that drought could continue to develop across the northern half of Florida. As mentioned in the recent conditions, parts of the Panhandle and Big Bend are already in a moderate drought, and much of the same region is abnormally dry. Drought development is still very likely, and the current drought is forecast to expand. Even though South Florida will begin to dry out, no drought is expected to develop because the region remains above the rain budget due to rains received from Irma.

Summary and Fire Potential Outlook

Florida has a good chance for seeing above average temperatures and below average rainfall between January and March 2018. Historically, La Niña translates to an active fire season for Florida; however, the Significant Wildland Fire Potential for the forecast period is for normal wildland fire behavior to continue for the entire state. There is a chance this could increase to above normal potential entering April however, as above average temperatures and below average rainfall are forecast to linger through at least the end of June. Rainfall will depend on how far south the mid-latitude winter storms will come. The jet stream will generally keep these large systems centered farther north than usual due to La Niña, and since most rainfall in the winter and spring are from cold fronts associated with these storms, this could have an impact on how much rain the state receives, and how far below average the total will be by the end of March. 

The next seasonal outlook will be the first week in April, 2018.

Additional Information

Three Month Temperature and Precipitation Outlook (CPC)

Drought Outlook (NOAA)

Fire Potential National Outlook (NIFC)