Don’t put the sunscreen away. There are more winter beach days in Floridians’ future.
Like last year, a weather system called La Niña is bringing a warm and dry winter to South Florida. If 2016 is an indicator, temperatures could be around the mid 70s in December — perfect for stretching out on the sand. Not so good for those hoping to break out the winter wardrobe.
Experts predict La Niña, which brings dry heat to the southern stretch of the U.S., from California to the Carolinas, and extra cold and rain to the northern tier, will once again only last a few months. Scientists said the system should peter out by Spring, leaving Floridians to their regularly scheduled heat wave.
La Niña’s effects, however, impact more than Miami-dwellers’ chances of encountering sweater weather.
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Last winter was the cherry on top of a scorcher of a year, for South Florida and the world. La Niña’s counterpart, El Niño, brought warmer temperatures worldwide in the first half of the year that pushed 2016 to be the hottest year in human history.
“2016 was a whopper,” said Ben Kirtman, director of the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
This year will likely break a three-year run of record-breaking hot years. La Niña’s cooler temperatures will bring a reprieve globally, albeit a small one. Kirtman said 2017 will likely still be in the top five hottest years on record.
This year’s La Niña will be shorter and weaker than those in the past, scientists predict, because of the blunting effects of global warming. La Niña’s natural cooling effects, which are focused in the Pacific Ocean, are having less of an impact on the backdrop of a hotter planet.
Kirtman said when he looked at this year’s map of forecasted sea surface temperatures around the globe, he was shocked.
“Except for the Pacific, almost everywhere else is warm,” he said. “In my lifetime that’s unusual.”
Meteorologists started to suspect La Niña was coming when this year’s hurricane season brought powerful storm after storm, a tell that the system might be starting.
The official sign is when the waters of the Pacific Ocean in the expanse between South America and Indonesia get colder.
“It’s like knocking over the first domino,” said Tom DiLiberto, a meteorologist at the Climate Prediction Center.
The colder waters change weather patterns, temporarily dumping more rain over Indonesia and less over the Pacific. Warmer and drier conditions spread from Florida to California, which may be bad news for a state plagued with deadly wildfires. Across the northern half of the nation — Seattle to Michigan — the opposite is true: La Niña brings colder and wetter winters.
Systems like La Niña or El Niño happen every two to seven years, then turn ‘neutral’ during in-between periods, DiLiberto said. They last about a year, although this La Niña looks like it’ll end in the Spring. That’s good news for South Florida, because an active La Niña in the summer leads to a more active Atlantic hurricane season, he said.
It’s too soon to say exactly what next year will hold after La Niña ends, but scientists are confident that temperatures will continue to rise.
“I’m sure some people are going to scream ‘global warming is over!’,” Kirtman said. “But that’s not true.”