La Niña expected to influence Florida weather this spring, possibly summer

Spring will start in a few weeks, and all of Florida is expected…

La Niña expected to influence Florida weather this spring, possibly summer 1

Chad Gillis
 
| Fort Myers News-Press

La Niña expected to influence Florida weather this spring, possibly summer 2

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Video: Weather front fuels kite boarders to big air off Sanibel Causeway

Video: Weather front fuels kite boarders to big air off of Sanibel Causeway

Andrew West, Fort Myers News-Press

Lake Okeechobee levels are high, wildfire risks are low, and La Niña is showing its influence as South Florida begins to show signs of a drier landscape. 

Spring will start in a few weeks, and all of Florida is expected to be hot and dry between now and mid-May, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. 

“January (rains were) well below average, which was a refreshing break as we saw in October and November all the excess rain,” said John Mitnik, top engineer at the South Florida Water Management District, at a recent district meeting. “But overall from the dry season as a whole, we’re still slightly above average.” 

Very little rain has fallen anywhere in the 16-county district, which stretches from south or Orlando south to Florida Bay and the Keys. 

“Within the last 30 days we’ve had four-tenths of an inch (of rain) district-wide,” Mitnik said. 

In some years daily rain patterns start as late as mid-June. Mid-May has been the average beginning to wet seasons over the past several decades, according to state data, and is used as the defunct “start” of the rainy season, regardless of when daily rain patterns kick in.

Drier conditions are starting to show on a moisture index used by the Florida Forestry Service to help predict wildfire conditions. 

While much of North Florida is still saturated on the scale, Lee and Collier counties are about halfway between wet and dry. 

NOAA is calling for above-average chances of above average temperatures over the next three months, while predicting below-average rainfall.

What does that mean? It should be warmer and drier than usual this spring, which should help evaporate moisture from across South Florida.

The lake was driven up by a wet pattern that brought heavy rains to South Florida in October and November. 

The next three months should bring drier conditions, however, and allow lake levels to recede before the start of the 2021 hurricane season. 

Levels were nearly 15.5 feet above sea level Thursday, about 2 feet higher than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would like to see, according to the agency’s Lake Okeechobee release guidance manual – often called the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, or LORS.

The Army Corps is currently creating new Lake Okeechobee release regulations, which will likely give the agency more flexibility when algae conditions are present or expected on the lake. 

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For the short term, the weather is going to be warm and sunny with a little wind. 

“We have a cold front that’s going to come through Friday, so you’ll see chances of storms for Friday, and for the weekend it will be much cooler and drier when people wake up,” said Nicole Carlisle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, which covers the Lee County area. “Temperatures will be in the lower to mid 50s in the morning.” 

Carlisle said the chances of this area seeing very low temperatures are dropping each day. 

“We’re still in winter but we’re transitioning into that time of year when we don’t get as cold as we get earlier in the year,” she said. 

The National Weather Service is predicting a 60 percent change of La Niña forming in the next few weeks or months. 

La Niña-like conditions are already impacting weather here, and they may also impact the coming hurricane season. 

“It increases the number of hurricanes and allows stronger storms to form,” said NWS meteorologist Stephen Shively, also out of Ruskin. “You typically have an above average hurricane season, so that’s something we’ll have to watch out for as we get into the spring.” 

Mitnik said he’s seeing the trademarks of the weather-changing pattern. 

“We’re still exhibiting a La Niña-like condition in the district, so you’re likely to see increased rainfall through March and then hopefully it will return to a more dry season pattern,” he said. 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter. 

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