While much of the country is experiencing snow storms and ice, above-average temperatures are arriving in the Sunshine State this week.
Pensacola, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Tampa, Fort Myers and Key West are all forecasted to break their daily records for high temperature. Several more cities such as Gainesville, Sarasota, Naples and Vero Beach could get close to breaking their daily records for high temperature.
“We are likely to get near or record-breaking temperatures in some areas of the state,” said David Zierden, Florida State Climatologist with the Florida Climate Center at Florida State University.
Florida has been in a warming trend for the last 10 or 15 years, said Zierden, so these unseasonable temperatures in February follow that trend. Florida experienced its fifth warmest year in 2022, according to NOAA.
Zierden expressed concern that the state could see negative consequences in coming months because of these high temperatures.
“We’re in the middle of Florida dry season, but we’ve been running drier than normal,” he said, “we’ve had little precipitation, and little is coming. The lack of rainfall can accelerate the outset of drought.”
The latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows moderate drought across North Florida and in a portion of Southwest Florida. A drier dry season, in addition to unusually warm temperatures, dries out vegetation and can spark wildfires. In addition to being incredibly destructive, wildfires negatively affect air quality.
Below average precipitation is expected to continue for the next few months.
The silver lining is the state received a surplus of rain during the 2022 hurricane season, which has staved off more severe drought so far.
“Hydrologically speaking the state is not in bad shape. But we are going through a hot, dry winter, so if the summer rainy season was to be less than robust, we could start to see some problems,” Zierden said.
High temperatures so early in the winter could also affect the state’s agriculture, especially in Northern Florida. Fruits like peaches and blueberries require a certain number of “chill hours,” or hours below 45 degrees. If fruits don’t get an adequate number of chill hours, they can’t produce buds and flowers, and crops may be reduced.
Even if fruits trees do get their chill hours, the warm weather could coax the trees into blooming early.
“Now that we are hitting these high temperatures, everything is blooming,” said Pam Knox, Agricultural Climatologist in Extension at the University of Georgia.
“The problem is, its fairly early in the year. So, if we get another frost in the year and go back to cooler temperatures, that could kill off the bloom or even the fruit,” she said.
Warmer temperatures also encourage corn producers to take a calculated risk and plant crops ahead of schedule. Similarly, Knox said if temperatures dip again, that may negatively affect the crop.
Both Zierden and Knox agreed: it’s too early to say that winter is over.
“Even though we are in a hot pattern right now, winter isn’t over. This increases the possibility for damage if a late season freeze were to occur, especially in North Florida,” Zierden said.