Warm, dry weather leads to expanding drought & county-wide burn bans
Above average temperatures and dry conditions this winter across much of the state have resulted in the development of widespread drought.
The U.S. Drought Monitor updates every Thursday and the latest update from March 30 shows increasingly intense drought conditions across the Sunshine State. Areas hit hard by Hurricane Ian just over six months ago are now in extreme drought, which is one level below the maximum intensity of exceptional drought. The area of severe drought more than doubled between the March 23 and March 30 update and covers over 43 percent of the state, all of which is in the Peninsula. Prolonged dry and warm weather has allowed for natural firebreaks to completely dry out in parts of Hendry and Collier Counties according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. County-enacted burn bans are in effect for a number of counties across Central and South Florida and include Brevard, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Orange, Osceola, Polk, and Seminole.
A primary reason for the recent stretch of dry and warm weather can be found in the Eastern Pacific. In this location, La Niña conditions persisted through much of the winter. Winter in Florida tends to be the driest season of the year, but Florida is prone to below average precipitation and above average temperatures during La Niña winters. The 2022-2023 winter was called a "triple dip" event, as it was the third consecutive winter where La Niña was present in the Eastern Pacific. This occurrence was only the third time since record-keeping began in the 1800s that such an event occurred. In the latest El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) update from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), La Niña has officially ended in the Eastern Pacific and an ENSO-neutral pattern has taken its place. The expectation as of publishing is for El Niño conditions to form during summer 2023, likely lasting into the fall.
The CPC depicts above average temperatures and above average precipitation during meteorological summer, which begins June 1 and ends on August 31. Meteorological fall, which runs September through November, could lean toward above average temperatures and near average precipitation. An El Niño winter would likely result in a wetter winter during the 2023-2024 season, which the CPC does suggest is possible during from December 2023 through February 2024. Seasonal outlooks can certainly change with time, but they are a great resource to determine certain seasonal trends.
Looking at more short-term trends, the CPC does suggest above average rainfall chances and temperatures through mid-April. Beyond that, the signal suggests a more warm and dry outlook through the third week of April. In general, the dry season in Florida typically comes to an end by late May, with April being the driest month of the year for many across the Sunshine State. For this reason, the ongoing drought across over 88% of the state is classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as a "short-term" drought. As the rainy season gets started in about six weeks, gradual improvements in the drought outlook should occur.