From Miami to Jacksonville, nearly 7 million Floridians live in an area currently afflicted with drought. As of July 9, 44% of the state is seeing abnormally dry conditions, with parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties now in an "extreme drought" according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor. A persistent ridge of high pressure off the east coast of Florida is to blame, suppressing a large majority of the sea breeze thunderstorm activity and allowing for additional hours of sunlight during the hottest days of summer.
The first six months of 2015 have been one of the driest starts to a year in recent history for the state as a whole, and in some areas since 1960. Since the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network first alerted you to the developing drought in early June, and despite a slight increase in daily thunderstorms since then, conditions overall have actually worsened. Areas of moderate and even severe drought have developed in the northeast Florida counties of Baker, Bradford, Clay, Duval, and Nassau. Abnormally dry conditions also blanket the entire state’s east coast, the most number of square miles that have experienced a drought since April 2013. It’s even worse in Miami, where there is officially an “extreme drought” and the city has had their driest start to a rainy season in 22 years. In North Florida and eastern parts of the panhandle, only one month in the last seven has been wetter than normal, and both Tallahassee and Gainesville are already on track for a drier than normal July as well.
The severely dry conditions have made it difficult for agricultural interests in parts of northeast Florida.
“We’ve had to move our cattle to a different area of the property as the main water source is too low,” says Bill Bryson, owner of Bryson Farms in Waldo.
In Starke, Cognito Farms are reporting similar conditions, with one ranch hand calling the conditions “the driest I’ve seen” in his three years in the area. Neither farmer reported decreases in production just yet, but with the drought forecast to persist through July, significant impacts are possible.
The 30-day outlook from NOAA does not provide immediate optimism. Near or below normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures are forecast for the state through the end of July, with many areas likely to see persistence and even intensification of the drought. The culprit for much of the drying, ridging over the North Atlantic (the Bermuda High), is expected to persist over the next two weeks. The good news is that despite the overall drier pattern, it’s rare to see a totally parched July. Gainesville averages 6.07” of rain for the month, and since records have been kept, only eight times has less than three inches of rain fallen.
The long term outlook suggests relief is on the horizon. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center calls for near-normal precipitation across our area over the next 90 days for the duration of the rainy season. With an El Nino projected to intensity to near-record levels by this fall, this could result in a period of well-above normal rainfall during the cool season months. The UF Weather Team is monitoring these trends and will provide updates in the coming weeks on this recent development and how it might affect our current drought.