Florida Is Getting Hotter And Wetter, According To New Climate Normals
New temperature averages reflect the general warming trend that we've seen both in the U.S. and globally in the past several or more decades. Large portions of the country are actually a little wetter, which is also consistent with climate change.
Federal researchers have compiled temperature data from the last 30 years that shows Florida, along with the rest of the country, is getting hotter. The state is also experiencing more rain, as well.
Every 10 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Center for Environmental Information updates what are called "climate normals." They're used as the basis for comparing today's weather to what we would normally expect to happen based on the past 30 years.
"This new set of normals reflects, essentially, the fingerprint of climate change, as has been going on in recent years," said Mike Palecki, the U.S Climate Normals project manager at NCEI.
The latest data released last week shows that temperatures are warmer around the country. The eastern two thirds of the U.S. tend to be wetter, while the western third, especially the Southwest, tends to be drier.
“The differences between the Southwest going towards a drier climate and most of the rest of the U.S. going towards a wetter climate are indicative not only of temperature carrying more water vapor, but also changes in atmospheric circulation,” said Palecki.
“A lot of the moisture from the Pacific is going around the southwest and up into the Northwest and into Canada. And then there's also clearly some more water vapor coming in from the Gulf, which is now warmer than it was in the last period in the South Atlantic. And so, there's more moisture available to create precipitation in the eastern U.S. now.”
Florida, specifically, is about 5% wetter annually than the previous 30-year average, according to David Zierden, a climatologist at Florida State University.
In terms of temperature, the old normals from 1981 through 2010 showed the average high for Florida was 75.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and only went up three tenths of a degree between 1991 and 2020.
Zierden said it's the average lows that are most telling.
"A trend we've been seeing over the past few decades: It's the nighttime low temperatures that are warming more than the daytime highs," he said.
For minimum temperature statewide, the new normals average 52.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the older ones at 52.1.
"So, there's been twice as much change in the overnight minimum temperatures than the daytime highs," said Zierden.
The annual high temperature average for Tampa increased by 1.6 degrees to 83 degrees Fahrenheit. The average lows have also increased by 1.3 degrees to 66.1 degrees.
Zierden doesn't think studying averages is the most effective way to talk about long-term climate change trends, though. As warmer temperatures become the new normal, slight increases every 10 years don't tell the whole story, he said.
Regardless of how we look at the numbers, an increasingly warmer climate is affecting things like hurricanes, sea level rise, wildlife and human health.
As the oceans warm, the sea surface temperatures of the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico provide more fuel for hurricanes, according to Zierden. The heat is also expanding our waters, causing them to rise. And, the warmer oceans are changing wildlife patterns.
“Natural mangroves are migrating northward,” said Zierden. “Fish species like snook are extending their range further and further northward. Also, a big influence on invasive species.”
He calls iguanas the “poster child” of invasive species and climate change in Florida. Because we haven't had a severe winter since 2010, the iguana population is booming in South Florida, and moving further northward, said Zierden.
Then there’s the issue of how people are affected by the rising temperatures. Zierden said the nighttime temperatures are the most concerning for those who don’t have air conditioning.
“You need that nighttime cooling for … people to really recover from the day's heat. And if nighttimes are getting hotter, that's certainly a concern,” he said.