An atmospheric double whammy turned winter to summer on Sunday, breaking a daytime heat record with a whopping 11-degree increase from normal mid-February temperatures.
The high Sunday at Palm Beach International Airport peaked at 88 degrees, which is what is more typically expected in early June instead of the dead of winter.
It broke a 2012 record of 87 degrees as warm winds at the Earth’s surface and gales six miles up in the sky worked together to coax the mercury higher. The unusual warmth wasn’t expected by forecasters, who had predicted the temperature would top out at 83 degrees following a cool front.
“We thought there would be a few showers around throughout the day and that the front would come in a little earlier,” said Stephen Konarik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “The front didn’t move through until roughly at sunset, so we were able to spend the entire day in sunshine and southwesterly winds.”
The southwest winds, which picked up air warmed over the Everglades, was part of a trailing frontal boundary attached to a small area of low pressure that left the Jacksonville coast early in the day.
Miami neared its record high Sunday reaching 86 degrees, just one degree shy of 87 degrees set in 2012. Fort Lauderdale temperatures soared to 88 degrees Sunday, also falling short of a 1926 record of 89 degrees.
“We’ve definitely been under a pattern that’s more typical of summertime,” Konarik said.
Sunday’s surface breezes had help in stoking the warm weather.
Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather, said a pronounced bulge in the jet stream sent dry warm air high in the atmosphere streaming into Florida from the north and northwest.
The reason the ridge is so large is because of the powerful Pacific storm that slammed California over the weekend with winds as high as 70 mph. Five deaths are attributed to the storm, which also forced evacuations as mudslides and flooding were feared.
“The jet stream is way up north near the Great Lakes, which is very, very unusual for February,” Kottlowski said. “That ridge is so big because of the super storm that came into the west.”
But the overall temperatures this winter have been on the warm side. In West Palm Beach, the average high since Jan. 1 is 78.6 degrees, about 5 degrees above normal. The Southeast Regional Climate Center ranks this year so far as the 10th warmest in records that date back 129 years.
While not as warm as Sunday, temperatures in South Florida and throughout much of the central part of the country are forecast to be above normal into Wednesday. Monday’s high in West Palm Beach reached 81 degrees – four degrees above normal.
“A dominant high-pressure ridge has created record warmth from Florida to the Great Lakes in the past few days,” said Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes, who noted that temperatures in West Palm Beach dropped 9 degrees between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday as the front went through.
Sunday’s sunny warm weather preceded what forecasters believe could be stormy days ahead.
A low-pressure system over Texas is expected to move east with a front that could bring thunderstorms to South Florida Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
The Storm Prediction Center has parts of Central and all of South Florida marked as a region where thunderstorms could pop up.
Kottlowski said there’s also the chance for more than an inch of rain Wednesday into Thursday.
“There could be some very strong thunderstorms ahead of this,” he said. “If not severe storms, then some very strong rainfall.”