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Statewide Weekend Weather Outlook for February 17 - 21, 2012

weather-graphic-02-17-2012-pmStorm System Brings Potential for Severe Weather Across Northwest Florida on Saturday and Across the Northern Peninsula on Sunday...

Main Severe Weather Threats Will Be Damaging Wind Gusts and Isolated Tornadoes... Locally Heavy Rainfall with Minor Urban Flooding Possible in the Panhandle... Rainfall Not Enough to Reduce the Fire Threat Across the Peninsula... Strong Winds Ahead and Behind the Cold Front Bring an Elevated Threat for Rip Currents...

Friday-Saturday:

A storm system and associated frontal boundaries will bring some much needed rainfall to the state, but also the risk for severe weather this weekend.  A stalled frontal boundary along the northern Gulf Coast and across the northern Florida Peninsula will generate scattered shower activity across much of the state Friday.  The highest rain chances, between 50% and 80%, will exist for areas closest to the stalled front, along the northern Gulf Coast and northern Central Florida near I-4, but a 20-40% chance of scattered showers with a chance for a few rumbles of thunder will exist later in the day across the remainder of Central Florida and portions of South Florida as southwest winds bring in additional moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and sea breeze boundaries develop and move onshore.  Overall, the rain is supposed to be rather light, less than a half of an inch; but higher rainfall totals are possible in thunderstorms.  Also, severe weather is not expected on Friday, but any thunderstorms that develop could produce gusty winds to 50mph and occasional lightning strikes.

Friday night, rain chances will persist throughout North and Central Florida as a byproduct of the increased moisture and the presence of the frontal boundary.  The rain chances are expected to range between 20% and 40%, with the highest values in the western Panhandle and the Florida Peninsula between Gainesville and Lake Okeechobee.  Any rainfall that occurs during the overnight hours is expected to be light.

The chance for severe weather will increase over North Florida on Saturday and Saturday night with the approach of a strong line of thunderstorms ahead of a cold front from the west.  There is, however, some uncertainty about the extent and timing of the severe weather.  While severe weather along a squall line ahead of the approaching cold front is likely to occur in the late evening to overnight hours on Saturday, a warm, moist, and unstable airmass will lift northward as the stalled frontal boundary lifts north as a warm front.  This could produce an initial threat for strong thunderstorms earlier in the day along with the threat for periods of heavy rain. 

As the evening progresses, the line of thunderstorms associated with the cold front is expected to move east into the western Panhandle and then into the Florida Big Bend after midnight, producing a second round of severe weather that could be more significant.  As a result, the Storm Prediction Center has placed the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend in an area for the enhanced risk of severe weather on Saturday and Saturday night and Tornado Watches appear likely.

The main threats with this system will be dangerous lightning and damaging straight-line wind gusts, but isolated tornadoes are also possible.  Rainfall amounts could range between 1 and 3 inches, with the heaviest amounts forecast for the western Panhandle.  Any locally heavy rainfall will increase the potential for flooding and a Flood Watch is in effect for Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties through midnight Saturday.  Residents and visitors are encouraged to monitor local media outlets or NOAA Weather Radio throughout the night and be prepared to take shelter in case any warnings are issued.

Along the Peninsula, scattered showers and possibly a few thunderstorms are possible across Northeast Florida, especially later in the day and overnight, and Central and South Florida areas will see a 10-30% chance of isolated showers, but should remain mostly dry.  Any rainfall that occurs in the Peninsula is expected to be light, less than a half of an inch, but higher amounts are possible in thunderstorms.

Daytime highs on Friday and Saturday will range from the lower 70s in North Florida to the upper 70s and low 80s in Central and South Florida.  Overnight lows will remain mild, with temperatures in the 50s across North Florida and 60s across Central and South Florida Friday night and in the 60s statewide on Saturday night.

Sunday-Tuesday:

As the front pushes east into the Peninsula on Sunday and weakens as it reaches I-75, rain chances will decrease slightly.  The highest chances, around 40%, for showers and thunderstorms will remain in Northeast and northern Central Florida, but a 30% chance for showers and possibly a few thunderstorms is also possible across southern Central Florida, South Florida and the Florida Keys.  Although the threat for severe weather will be decreasing, lingering strong storms along the front may produce isolated cases of severe weather through the mid afternoon hours and the Storm Prediction Center has placed Northeast Florida and northern Central Florida areas, north of I-4, in a risk area for severe weather on Sunday.  The biggest threat will be damaging winds and dangerous lightning.  Rainfall that is expected to occur is likely to be less than a half of an inch, but higher amounts are possible in thunderstorms.

Clearing conditions will be in place across the Panhandle by sunrise Sunday, with rain tapering off across Northeast Florida by mid-afternoon and dissipating across Central and South Florida by sunset.

Behind the front, pleasant conditions will move into the region with high pressure and sunny skies into Tuesday.  However, winds will be breezy on Sunday, both ahead of and behind the front, with west to northwest winds ranging between 10 and 25 mph throughout the state with gusts up to 35 mph.  Wind Advisories will likely be issued and will result in problems for boaters and high-profile vehicles, as well as vehicles on bridged.  These winds may remain elevated between 10 and 15mph on Monday and Tuesday out of the east.

The temperature changes associated with the frontal passage will be most noticeable on Sunday night when there will be a clear demarcation between the 50s for Central and South Florida and the lower 40s and even upper 30s for North Florida.  This front will also cause high temperatures drop to the upper 60s and low 70s throughout Florida on Monday, but they will rebound into the 70s on Tuesday.

Rip Currents:

High winds and unsettled weather will cause a high risk of rip currents for Panhandle and Big Bend beaches on Saturday.  As the wind shifts from the south the west and northwest on Sunday, a moderate to high risk for rip currents will likely be generated for many beaches along the Florida Gulf Coast.  Strong east winds may generate a moderate risk for rip currents on Monday and Tuesday for beaches along the Atlantic coast and a moderate risk of rip currents will return for Panhandle beaches on Tuesday due to increasing southeast winds.

Anyone who plans to enter the water should check their local rip current forecast before going to their beach destination.  Everyone should always remember that the safest beaches are the ones protected by lifeguards.  Daily surf zone and rip current forecasts for all Florida beaches.

Drought & Fire Weather:

The storm system on Saturday will bring some beneficial rain for the Panhandle where the drought is the highest for Florida.  This will keep the risk of fires fairly low for the next few days.  However, lighter rainfall amounts, the threat for lightning and gusty winds will keep the fire risk elevated for the Peninsula for the next 5 days.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire State of Florida is now at least abnormally dry, and 57% of Florida is still considered to be in severe or extreme drought conditions.  The highest drought values currently exist across North and North Central Florida, where it is estimated that 9-15 inches of rain is needed to relieve the current long-term drought, but short term drought values are rising rapidly across the Florida Peninsula.

Due to continuing La Nina conditions which are forecast to persist through Spring of 2012, a drier and warmer than normal winter is forecast for the Southeastern U.S.  With only a 20-30% chance of relieving the drought during the next 3 months, drought conditions are forecast to worsen and expand across the entire state through the remainder of the winter.

Click here for the latest watches, warnings, and advisories from The National Weather Service.

For coastal and offshore forecasts throughout Florida and Georgia, please click here.

Have a great holiday weekend!!

Bradley Schaaf, Meteorologist
Amy Godsey, State Meteorologist
State Meteorological Support Unit
Florida Division of Emergency Management
www.FloridaDisaster.org
www.KidsGetAPlan.com

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