Influences from El Niño Likely in Florida by Late Fall

Some Floridians don’t want any more rain, while others just a few miles away are almost desperate for it. For example, Tampa has a rainfall surplus (compared to normal) of nearly 20 inches for the year so far, whereas just a short drive down I-75 to Naples takes you into an area with a deficit of more than eleven inches. The forecast this fall may be good news for those that need it, bad for those that don’t. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center calls for above-normal precipitation statewide, especially across the southern third of the peninsula. Much of this rainfall is expected to occur later in the season when a strong El Nino will have more of an influence. Warmer-than-normal conditions are also projected for most of the state through December, with South Florida having the highest probability of a prolonged warm stretch.


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There may be a brief reprieve in October from the deluge many Floridians have seen this summer. The latest outlook from the Climate Prediction Center puts the entire state in an area of “equal chances” of receiving more or less rainfall than normal. Our neighbors to the north may be envious of our temperatures, though, as we’re more likely to experience a warmer than usual month.

Historical connections between Florida’s climate and the effects from an El Niño begin to ramp up in late fall. NOAA announced last week that the current El Nino is already the third strongest on record, and could grow even stronger by early winter. Typically, a strong event produces 25% to 50% more rainfall in Florida over non El Nino years. Research has also shown temperatures to be a whopping 1.5° to 3° cooler (compared to average) statewide during El Niño winters.

Along with an increase in rainfall, severe weather outbreaks become more likely by late fall during El Nino years. It’s not unusual for fronts to move deep into Florida during the winter months, creating a clash between the air masses and producing thunderstorms. But Brian LaMarre, Meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Tampa, says the atmospheric dynamics of the atmosphere are typically stronger during an El Nino, increasing the chances of an extreme event,

“When you look at the major tornado outbreaks in Florida’s history, all of them have been during El Nino years.”

Historical data is less conclusive on whether a higher number of severe weather episodes occurs during this type of weather pattern, but Brian did share some interesting numbers on the strength of those events.

“The only time Florida has seen an F4 tornado was in April of 1958 and April of 1966. Both of those years were strong El Nino years.”

He also cited two of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in the state’s history, February 1998 and February 2007, as occurring during El Nino winters.

Homeowners will want to take note that insurance claims from the last two strong El Niño events in 1982 and 1997 topped $500 million.  While it’s too early to tell exactly where and when the strongest influences from the El Nino will occur, the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network will be watching trends closely to keep Floridians informed.  You can also download the new mobile app, Florida Storms, for customized geo-targeted notifications of dangerous weather headed your way.

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