Are we heading for a fall drought?

Significantly less September rainfall than normal in NE Florida, SE Georgia

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We saw less rainfall than normal across our area for the month of September, and we are headed towards what is typically a drier time of year for us. If the drier than normal conditions persist we could be facing a drought and an enhanced wildfire danger in the spring.

For Jacksonville, we typically see 2.30 inches of rain. So far we have only gotten 1.44" of rain, meaning we are .86" of rain behind average. 

Arlington has fared a tad better this month, Craig Airfield is only .51" below normal, the monthly total so far is 1.56". 

Gainesville has fared the worst this month, they have only seen .93" of rain so far, and they are 3.37" below normal rainfall for this time. Plus, of the .93" they have seen, close to one-third of it fell in one day, which mean absorption rates were not 100%. 

Alma, Georgia is 1.04" below normal, and they have only seen a mere .06" of rain this month. 

St Simons Island, Georgia is the closest to normal, they have seen 1.86" of rain in September and that is only .14" below average. 

Enhanced fire danger

The Florida Forest Service is urging Floridians to exercise caution as record high temperatures and dry conditions are expected to continue throughout the state, elevating the fire danger level.

"Florida's dry conditions and high temperatures pose elevated wildfire threats throughout the state. I encourage all Floridians and visitors to be vigilant and cautious with all outdoor fire," said Commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried. "When citizens exercise caution, they're doing more than just protecting themselves and their property – they're helping protect the lives of Florida's wildland firefighters and first responders."

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which ranges from 0 (very wet) to 800, is used by the Florida Forest Service to indicate the dryness of the soil and surface fuels. The current statewide KBDI is 392. In addition, nearly every Florida county is below normal rainfall for the month of September. In the Panhandle, some areas are 18 inches below normal rainfall.

"Conditions are especially dangerous for firefighters working to suppress fires in the Panhandle where Hurricane Michael left an exponential volume of damaged timber resulting in dense pockets of vegetation," said Jim Karels, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service.

While lightning is one of the leading causes of wildfires in Florida, most of the wildfires this year have been human-caused and many were caused by escaped yard debris burning.

The Florida Forest Service is urging the public to avoid yard debris burning due to the elevated fire threat and to use extreme caution when using fire outdoors, including campfires and grills. The following are recommendations to minimize the threat of wildfires:

  • Never burn on dry, windy days;
  • Never leave a fire or outdoor heat source unattended;
  • Keep a water source and a shovel or suppression tool on-hand;
  • Completely extinguish any fire before leaving it;
  • Avoid parking over dry, grassy areas;
  • Ensure chainsaws, off-highway vehicles, and motorcycles have spark arrestors.

There are currently 26 active wildfires burning across Florida. Since January, the Florida Forest Service has battled 1,475 wildfires that have burned 89,105 acres.

About the Author:

Rebecca Barry

She is thrilled to be in the River City where she can catch the JU Dolphin's games and study the diverse weather patterns.