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Southwest Florida continues to be among driest areas in state

Florida is forecast to be in the grips of drought for months
National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Florida is forecast to be in the grips of drought for months

A lack of rain plus higher than normal temperatures sets the scene for drought, and the first obvious sign of a drought is wildfires. Counties in Southwest Florida and the Panhandle are at the start of that cycle right now.

Early this month the Drought Monitor, released weekly by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Agriculture, showed nearly half of Florida under a drought, up about 10 percent since February. Despite one rainy afternoon last week, the driest areas include a broad swath of Southwest Florida and North Florida along the Interstate 10 corridor from Jacksonville to Pensacola.

Dry and warm conditions dominated the state while temperatures ranged between three degrees to 12 degrees above normal in the Southeastern United States. Brian Fuchs, of the National Drought Mitigation Center, said temperatures were as much as 12 degrees above normal in the northern portions of the region and 3-6 degrees above normal in the southern portion.

“The driest areas remain along the coasts and Florida,” Fuchs wrote in a statement. “Severe drought was introduced in Northwest Florida this week with some dry signals out to 6 months or more.,” hinting that a drought-ending amount of rainfall may not happen until at least September.

Fuchs said wildfires are one of the first obvious signs that drought has set in. A trio of wildfires near Panama City in the Panhandle have torched more than 34,300 acres as of Monday, most of that land being part of the Bertha Road Fire that was 60 percent contained over the weekend. Panama City is in Bay County, which is littered with debris and damage from category 5 Hurricane Michael that made landfall there in October 2018.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.