A persistent loop of Caribbean-warmed wind is giving February an April feel as heat records topple across South Florida, including one that has held reign for more than a century.
Sunday’s low temperature in West Palm Beach dipped only to a balmy 74 degrees — 15 degrees above normal for this time of year and warm enough to break the previous overnight heat record of 73 set in 1903. The mercury also bottomed out at 74 Monday morning, which could tie a 1959 record if it holds as the coolest temp of the day.
In Miami, Sunday’s low of 75 tied the record overnight warm temperature for the date previously set in 1994. Miami also set a record Saturday when the low fell to 74, breaking the 1994 record of 73.
And in Naples, a blistering daytime high of 89 Monday squashed the 86-degree record set in 1960.
“So far for the month of February, the Palm Beaches is averaging 7 degrees above normal, which is very, very warm,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. “It’s really incredible how warm the nights have been.”
The normal overnight low temperature for this time of year is 59 degrees. The official gauge at Palm Beach International Airport has simmered above that every night this month except Feb. 2, when it dipped to normal. High temperatures in the low 80s are more indicative of April weather, while overnight temps reaching 74 doesn’t normally happen until June.
“We can get humid in February, but we are talking about persistent humidity day, after day and that’s not typical in winter,” Kottlowski said.
The abnormal warmth is in contrast to the cooler temperatures of January, which left Florida 2.9 degrees below normal for the month, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center.
But it’s more in line with what is expected during a La Niña-influenced winter when the unruly jet stream tends to straighten out, blocking Arctic air from making it through Florida. The Climate Prediction Center expects La Niña to endure through spring when a transition to a neutral climate pattern is forecast.
Robert Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said a sub-tropical area of high pressure has a strong grip on South Florida, sending its clockwise swirling winds through the Caribbean toward Florida’s east coast and leaving scant chance for cooling showers.
“We are in an air mass not too different from what they are seeing in the Lesser Antilles,” Garcia said. “It’s not completely unheard of to see these warm temperatures this time of year, but it’s definitely not normal.”
Today’s high in West Palm Beach is forecast to reach 82 with mostly sunny skies. That pattern is expected to repeat at least through Friday.
“We don’t see any surges of cold air coming into South Florida any time soon,” Kottlowski said. “There might be a weak cold front Saturday or Sunday, but until then, temps will be well above normal.”
The warm, dry pattern may benefit Lake Okeechobee. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds said earlier this month the lake was slow to recede during January’s cooler temperatures — something the Corps was monitoring closely in case discharges were necessary as the wet season gets closer.
On Tuesday, Lake Okeechobee was 15.19 feet above sea level, just below the top of the Corps’ comfort level of 15.5 feet.
“The big concern for us right now is we came into 2018 right at the 15.5 feet, and we want to be at the lower end of the preferred range by June 1,” said Corps spokesman John Campbell in a Feb. 1 interview. “We would have to average about a half-foot of recession per month to get there.”