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Wildfire Weather Relief More Than A Week Away

On Thursday, the Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, reported 56 wildfires burning over 7,000 acres statewide, including about 3,000 acres in Northwest Florida.  

The Five Mile Swamp Firein the Garcon Point area of Santa Rosa County began Monday as a controlled burn, but escaped Tuesday and rapidly spread to 2,000 acres. About 600 acres have been consumed in the Mussett Bayou fire in Santa Rosa Beach in South Walton County. Dozens of structures have been lost to the fires.

Climate and weather conditions have played a significant role in the development and spread of the wildfires, and will affect efforts to get the fires under control.

The highest fire danger day this week was Wednesday, when there was a red flag warning in effect due to a confluence of contributing factors.

Meteorologist Ray Hawthorne, with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, points to an early morning cold front that brought dry air and gusty winds to the region.

“On Wednesday afternoon, relative humidity was around 19-20% and on top of that we had wind gusts of 35-40 mph,” said Hawthorne. “And, when you have dry conditions at the start and then you add on top of that gusty winds that makes conditions favorable for wildfire spread.”

Adding to the current conditions, Hawthorne says the overall climate has been ripe for wildfires for several months.

“It’s has been a dry start to the year across much of the state of Florida. The Panhandle, the western Panhandle, has been no stranger to that. Rainfall deficits have been 6-8 inches below what they typically are.”

April and May are typically dry months in Florida. While there were severe weather events in the region this spring, Hawthorne says they included precipitation, but not enough to end the ongoing drought.

“The weather comes; it rains for a little bit and then the weather kind of moves on. And, we haven’t had that sustained period of soaking rain,” Hawthorne stated one reason for the dry conditions.  

“There’ve been some wet periods here and there, but overall conditions have been dry since really the start of the calendar and that’s the reason why we have rainfall deficits that are running 6-8 inches and in some cases 9 inches below average and that’s a big part of the challenge.”

Thursday brought better conditions. Humidity remained relatively low, but increased to the 30% range and winds died down quite a bit to about 5 mph.

“We have another front that is going to approach tomorrow (Fri). But, out ahead of the front, we’re actually going to have a southwest wind from the Gulf of Mexico, so there will be more humidity Friday afternoon. Humidity values between 40% and 60% are a pretty good bet. The winds may pick up a little bit, but that should be offset by the fact that it’ll be a bit more humid.”

As far as rainfall, forecast models show the approach of strong low across the Gulf that will bring much- needed rain to South Florida this weekend. Hawthorne says Northwest Florida may get a few showers, but will have to wait a week or two for some measurable precipitation.

“As far as our neck-of-the-woods, things are looking dry, unfortunately, for a little while longer. If we can just hang tight, the odds will move in our favor, especially heading toward June. The reason for that is there tends to be a lot more moisture in the atmosphere by then and that’s typically the start of our wet season.

This, says Hawthorne, is when our daily forecasts include a regular dose of afternoon scattered showers and thunderstorms.

“There are no guarantees, but things should hopefully start to trend better as we head toward June.”

Although there are no burn bans in effect, residents are advised to avoid any fire-related activities. 

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.