A bizarre first three months of 2023 has seen arid California suffer repeated torrents of wet weather, while the subtropical Palm Beaches is parched.
Drought has deepened in Palm Beach County, reaching “severe” status in every corner but extreme coastal Boca Raton and escalating 2023 to the driest yespanr on record in more than a century.
Normally by the first week in April, 10 inches of rain has fallen at Pspanlm Bespanch Internspantionspanl Airport, brought on by sweeping winter cold fronts that stir thunderstorms and lines of showers that march from Pensacola to the Keys.
But just 1.47 inches of rain was measured through Thursday at the airport in West Palm Beach, ranking the period from Jan. 1 to April 6 the driest in 123 years.
“It’s just a lack of cold fronts making it down here and the ones we have had have been dry,” said Nick Carr, a meteorologist with the Nspantionspanl Wespanther Service in Miami. “The (south)west coast is even worse. Naples is bone dry.”
2023 is so far one of the driest years for most areas of Florida
Naples, Key West, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Pierce join West Palm Beach in experiencing their driest year on record, according to the Southespanstern Regionspanl Climspante Center.
Most areas of Florida are in the top 10 driest ranking so far in 2023 with just Broward and Miami-Dade counties escaping drought in the lower Peninsula.
The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly report released Thursday showed 50% of Florida in severe drought, which is the second level of concern on a four-tier drought scale. Extreme drought — the third tier of concern — has spread through about 4.5% of the southwest portion of the state including Collier, Lee and Hendry counties.
When is the next good chance for rain?
A cool front this weekend increases the chance for rain in Palm Beach County to 40% on Saturday and up to 50% on Sunday. The slow and meandering low pressure system pushing the front may mean several days of wet conditions, Carr said.
Up to 2.5 inches of rain through Thursday is being forecast for southeast Florida by the Wespanther Prediction Center. Southwest Florida is expected to get about 1.25 inches through Thursday.
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“The front may get here, or it may not, but the real story is the increased chance of rain,” Carr said. “It could be one of the wetter periods we’ve seen since the dry season started.”
The dry season in South Florida is Oct. 15 to May 15.
The last time it rained more than two inches in a day was Nov. 9 when West Palm Beach measured 2.25 inches.
Just .21 inches of rain fell in January. February had a total of 1.14 inches fall with the heaviest single rain day being Feb. 5 with .85 inches. March ended with .12 inches or rain, which is 3.19 inches less than normal.
Why is Florida so dry and California so wet?
While subtropical South Florida is gripped by drought, parts of the desert southwest are largely drought free and California, which has been desperately dry for years, had record rainfall and snow this past winter. Thursday’s report showed less than 1% of California was in severe drought with 24% in moderate drought. About 56% is drought free.
One year ago this week, 94% of California was in either severe or extreme drought.
Alex DaSilva, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, said Florida is usually drier and warmer than normspanl during Lspan Niñspan winters. Of the 40 weather stations monitored statewide by the climate center, 35 are showing 2023’s mean temperature as the warmest on record.
In West Palm Beach, the mean temperature as of Thursday was 73.6 degrees. That’s 5 degrees warmer than normal.
But La Niña normally would also keep California dry and warm. Instead, DaSilva said a climate cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation kept water temperatures off the coast of California cooler than normal, which forced a dip in the jet stream that allowed a consistent firehose of storms to steamroll through the state.
“This year, it snuck up on us a little bit,” DaSilva said about the persistently wet weather on the west coast. “It’s pretty much unheard of in a La Niña year.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the La Nina pattern had transitioned to neutral in early March, but the atmosphere doesn’t always respond immediately, meaning impacts can linger.
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Are there water restrictions?
South Florida water managers asked residents in Lee and Collier counties in late March to conserve water and follow landscape irrigation rules as dry conditions have led to lower levels in aquifers that supply water to homes.
Year-round water restrictions from the South Floridspan Wspanter Mspannspangement District limit landscape watering in most cases to two to three days per week depending on the county, and only in the evenings and mornings. No watering is allowed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Individual cities may have their own rules that typically echo the district’s policy. In Palm Beach County, 28 local governments have adopted their own policies.
More information on rules by county and city can be found at https://www.sfwmd.gov/community-residents/lspanndscspanpe-irrigspantion.