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Florida's climatologist breaks down this past year and what to expect in 2024

Jessica Meszaros

Floridians experienced record-breaking heat this past summer.

And for the past three years, Tampa has either tied or set a new record for the number of "hot days" where the temperature reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Plus, some weather stations along the west coast of Florida recorded their driest year on record.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke with the state's climatologist, David Zierden out of Florida State University, about the climate this past year and what to expect in 2024.

How would you rate Florida in terms of addressing climate change for 2023?

I think our administration and governor get a pretty good grade for addressing resiliency, and coastal infrastructure, storm water through the Resilient Florida program. They've given out, I think, in the last fiscal year, like $235 million in grants to local communities to improve their infrastructure addressing flooding and sea level rise and coastal issues… so, pretty good grade there.

As far as addressing the root cause of climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions and … renewable energy... grade's not quite as good.

So, the statewide temperatures were the hottest on record for the summer months, right, in 2023?

Yes, if we look at the summer as a whole, which media meteorologists define as June through August, Florida only ranked second warmest on record. But two of the months of

July, tied for the warmest month ever, any month of the year, at 84.2 degrees for the statewide average temperature.

And then August came along, which was brutally hot and crushed that record with average temperature of 85 degrees. And so, it broke the July record by nearly a 10th of a degree Fahrenheit. So, very significant, very persistent heat a lot around the state of Florida.

What does that mean, when we look at the overall trend?

Oh, well, it's very much just in line with the trends we've seen in recent decades. Throughout the 20th century, Florida and much of the southeast kind of lagged behind seeing this warming trend that other parts of the nation and certainly the globe had seen throughout the 20th century.

But once we got into the 2000s, especially in the last eight to 10 years, Florida has really caught up in South Florida being probably leading the pack. But you know, statewide average temperatures are now running a full two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were prior to 2000. And it's been pretty consistent from year to year since 2010. So yeah, we've caught up quickly. It's just part of this continuing trend we've seen.

And what can we expect in 2024? Is there a way to predict that?

Oh, that's hard to tell. Traditionally, I've talked about how El Niño leads to a spike in global average temperature. And El Niño usually reaches its peak strength in the winter months, December, January, February. And we've seen the largest spike in global average temperature during the second year of El Niño. We saw that in 2016. We saw that in 1998. Where this year we saw this spike in global average temperature during the onset of El Niño.

That's kind of worrisome for what that means for the overall climate going into 2024. And also, the North Atlantic sea surface temperatures are still running much above normal and long term models are kind of indicating that that might continue into the summer and into next hurricane season.

So, warmer ocean and Gulf temperatures are part of the reason that Florida experienced such a warm summer this past year. It's too early to predict those, but some early indications are that we might be dealing with similar conditions this year.

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Jessica Meszaros