South Florida sweating through warmest winter in three years

Not much shivering this winter – but a lot of sweating.

Like much of the eastern U.S., South Florida has thus far seen a warm mild winter, about 2 degrees above normal over the past three months, the National Weather Service reported on Friday.

While both December and February recorded temperatures several degrees above normal, only January saw readings near normal or slightly below.

“Warmer and drier conditions were the rule across South Florida,” said  meteorologist Robert Molleda.

The outlook for March through May: South Florida likely will continue to see warmer and drier than normal conditions.

“The drier than normal pattern,” Molleda said, “means that the threat of wildfires increases substantially during the months of March, April and May.”

Why has South Florida been so warm in the past three months?

Primarily because of a persistent high pressure over the Southeast, which “kept most strong cold fronts from making it to Florida,” Molleda said. It also shifted winds off the Atlantic, moderating temperatures.

Additionally, La Niña acted to keep the jet stream – and thus storms – farther  north during winter.  La Niña is the large-scale weather pattern best known for nurturing tropical storms in the summer.

All told the winter of 2011-2012, which officially ends on March 20, has been the warmest in three years, about 4 to 5 degrees warmer than the previous two winters.

Average temperatures from December to February:  Miami, 71.4 degrees, or 1.8 degrees above normal; Fort Lauderdale, 71.5 degrees or 1.2 degrees above normal; West Palm Beach, 69.6 degrees, or 2.4 degrees above normal.

In the past three months, there were only  two significant cold episodes. The first, on Jan. 4, dropped temperatures to below freezing in far western areas. The second, on Feb 12-13, produced freezing temperatures and frost Lake Okeechobee.

Otherwise, South Florida saw a lot of warm to hot days. The highest temperatures recorded this winter:  Miami, 87 degrees on Feb. 25; West Palm Beach, 88 degrees on Feb. 24; and Fort Lauderdale  86 degrees on Jan. 27 and Feb. 23.

Rain-wise, it’s been a parched winter, seeing about 2-4 inches less rain than normal, largely due to a very dry December and January.

The heaviest rains fell on Feb. 6-7, when parts of Miami-Dade and Broward received 3 to 4 inches, and the rest of the region recorded 1-3 inches. Otherwise,  the region received about 50 to 75 percent of its normal rainfall over the three month period.