For a state that receives around 58 inches of rain annually, a discussion of drought in Florida might appear to be of little relevance. Drought is a part of our climate, however, just like hurricanes, thunderstorms, wildfires, and tornadoes. Unlike the other hazards that affect the state, droughts can impact large areas and last for months, even years.
So, what is a drought? Drought is a difficult concept to define. It's typically defined as a prolonged period when there is a precipitation deficit from normal values. But what's important in defining a drought are the duration of these below average precipitation amounts and their impacts on the state. Drought can affect water supplies, agriculture, and fire danger levels and is measured by the severity of these impacts.
Scientists don't know how to predict drought a month or more in advance for most locations. Predicting drought depends on the ability to forecast two fundamental meteorological surface parameters, precipitation and temperature. From the historical record, we know that climate is inherently variable. We also know that anomalies of precipitation and temperature may last from several months to several decades. How long they last depend on air–sea interactions, soil moisture and land surface processes, topography, internal dynamics, and the accumulated influence of dynamically unstable synoptic weather systems at the global scale.
So what does this mean for Florida's current drought conditions and our drought outlook for Spring?
A U.S. Drought Monitor identified 90 percent of Florida as suffering from abnormally dry or drought conditions. According to the weekly report produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center, all of Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties are abnormally dry — the lowest level on a five-tier drought scale, which means the area could be heading toward drought conditions with short-term damage possible to plants, crops, and pastures.
About 14 percent of the state, all in the Panhandle, is suffering moderate drought. Moderate drought is level 2 on the scale, signaling low water levels in streams, reservoirs or wells, with water shortages either developing or imminent.
The designation is no surprise to Florida's water managers. November was the driest month on record for the state in 121 years, according to NOAA. It was also South Florida's driest November on record.
During drought conditions, water maintenance is crucial to the life of water bodies. There are some activities which may be necessary to maintain access, control invasive species, and reduce nuisance accumulations of biological material. It is important to check back regularly and stay updated on Florida's drought conditions and their effect on your waterway.