Wednesday, March 22, 2017
By Jason Samenow March 22
Water temperatures at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and near South Florida are on fire. They spurred a historically warm winter from Houston to Miami and could fuel intense thunderstorms in the spring from the South to the Plains.
In the Gulf, the average sea surface temperature never fell below 73 degrees over the winter for the first time on record, reported Eric Berger of Ars Technica.
Galveston, Tex., has tied or broken an astonishing 33 record highs since Nov. 1, while neighboring Houston had its warmest winter on record. Both cities have witnessed precious few days with below-normal temperatures since late fall.
More often than not, temperatures have averaged at least 10 degrees warmer than normal. “The consistency and persistence of the warmth was the defining element of this winter,” said Matt Lanza, a Houston-based meteorologist, who has closely tracked the region’s temperatures.
Meanwhile, a ribbon of toasty sea surface temperatures streamed north through the Straits of Florida supporting record-setting warmth over parts of the Florida peninsula.
Miami and Fort Lauderdale both posted their warmest winters on record. Climate Central, a nonprofit science communications firm in Princeton, N.J., found 80 percent of the winter days in Miami, Orlando and Tampa were above normal.
“Out of 90 days this winter, Miami saw a record setting 69 of them reach 80°F or warmer!” wrote Miami broadcast meteorologist John Morales for the website WxShift, a project of Climate Central. “In addition, 11 daily record high temperatures were set as were 8 daily record warm low temperatures and 2 monthly record warm low temperatures.”
The warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, in particular, could mean that thunderstorms that erupt over the southern and central United States are more severe this spring. Berger explained in his Ars Technica piece: “While the relationship is far from absolute, scientists have found that when the Gulf of Mexico tends to be warmer than normal, there is more energy for severe storms and tornadoes to form than when the Gulf is cooler.”
Such conducive environments for severe weather may increase due to climate change, Gensini said, although he expects high year-to-year to variability — something already being observed.