La Niña Watch: Stirring hurricanes and fires

Weather pattern brings impacts long after hurricane season

Animation showing sea surface temperature departure from the long-term average from mid-April 2020 through early July 2020. (NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Lab)

The spike we are seeing in tropical activity could be followed by increasing Florida wildfires if the cool water pattern in the Pacific known as La Niña continues to grow.

Sea surface temperatures are at a tipping point in the central Pacific as it dips below average. If the trend continues over the next five months, the stage will be set for La Niña.

La Niña brings broad changes to weather patterns, including greater threats for tropical systems and wetter summers for Floridians.

The prolific hurricane season seen thus far can be related to more favorable upper winds over the Atlantic that reduce shear and promote storm formation.

La Niña Watch is issued by NOAA due to model predictions showing a 60% chance of La Niña developing by December 2020.

This brings other concerns long after hurricane season ends.

During the winter months, the lower half of the United States generally has drier and warmer conditions in La Niña due to a more poleward jet stream that takes storms farther north.

By spring, the lack of rainfall can lead to more frequent wildfires, as we saw during La Niña in 2007, when the Bugaboo Fire burned an area roughly twice the size of Los Angeles in the Okefenokee swamp.

Subtropical Storm Andrea spins off Florida May 2007 as the 133,000 thousand acre Bugaboo Fire burns during a strong La Niña year. (NASA)

Fire season was very active in the spring and even into the summer months of 1998.

A very sudden and severe La Niña drought affected much of Florida from late March into July.

The expected milder winter due to La Nina is separate from global warming. If La Niña occurs, it will mean a region of the Pacific ocean is temporarily cooler than average. This does affect global weather and climate, but does not slow down global warming.

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