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Fires, Floods, and Heavy Snow: an Extreme May Weather Situation

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:23 PM GMT on May 03, 2013

A highly unusual jet stream pattern is bringing a bizarre combination of heavy May snows, flooding, extreme fire danger, and well below average severe thunderstorm activity to the U.S. A strong "blocking" high pressure system has set up over Greenland, blocking the normal west-to-east progression of weather systems. A truly unusual situation has developed where the blocking high has forced a low pressure system near Greenland to move southwestwards to a point just off the New England coast. The blocking high has also forced an unusually sharp southwards dip in the jet stream over the Central U.S., where all-time May snowfall and cold temperature records are being set. This loop in the jet stream will get cut off from the main flow of the jet over the weekend, forming a "cutoff" low that will drift over the Southeast U.S., bringing cold, flooding rains of 2 - 4" over a wide swath of the Southeast. But over the Western U.S., an unusually sharp ridge of high pressure has set up, bringing record high temperatures, a strong Santa Ana wind event, and dangerous fire weather. The Santa Ana wind event has entered its second day over Southern California, where a clockwise flow of air has brought offshore winds, record high temperatures in the 90s, powerful winds gusting from 40 - 75 mph, and relative humidities less than 5%. Three destructive fires have erupted since Wednesday. The largest of these fires is called the Springs fire, and has burned 10,000 acres near Camarillo, California, about 50 miles west-northwest of Los Angeles. According to Cal Fire, the blaze was 10% contained at 6:30 am PDT May 3. The hourly observations from Thursday, May 2 at Camarillo show the onset of the Santa Ana winds impressively. The temperature jumped from 54° to 81° between 7 am and 8am, and the wind went from calm to sustained 35 mph, gusting to 43 mph, by 9 am. The temperature Thursday afternoon topped out at 98°--a new record high for the date--and the humidity dropped to a desiccating 4%. The Santa Ana wind event will not be quite as strong Friday, but will still be powerful enough to keep firefighters from gaining the upper hand on the blaze. The situation will improve dramatically over the weekend, when a low pressure system will bring in air 10 - 15° cooler, onshore winds, and rain.


Figure 1. Residents look on as a back fire set by firefighters consumes the hillside behind their homes as a wildfire burns on May 2, 2013 in Newbury Park, Calif. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


Figure 2. A bad day to be on the Channel Islands. Offshore winds blow smoke from the Springs fire, burning about 50 miles west of Los Angeles on May 2, 2013, over the Channel Islands, where the smoke mixed with brighter marine stratocumulus clouds. Image credit: NASA.

A early start to the California wildfire season
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of April 26, the U.S. had the fewest fires and the lowest acreage burned by wildfires in 2013 for any year-to-date period over the past ten years. But in just the past two days, the acreage burned for 2013 has jumped by 20%. Severe drought conditions across much of the Western U.S. are likely to help fuel an early and severe wildfire season during 2013, they said in their latest monthly outlook, issued May 1. Fire season is expected to be in full swing during May--a full month earlier than usual--in Southern California, California's Sacramento Valley and adjacent lower foothills, and South Central Oregon. In California, “precipitation pretty much shut off at the beginning of the year,” NIFC wildfire analyst Jeremy Sullens said during a conference call with reporters. “Since they’re not expecting a lot more precipitation for the remainder of the summer, conditions are going to worsen as we go into the hotter part of the year.” Significant fire potential will increase to above normal during May in southeastern Arizona, much of western New Mexico, and northern Virginia. Late-season snows across the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado have dumped enough moisture to delay wildfire season until its usual June start. However, these storms have largely missed southern Colorado, where the wildfire risks remain elevated.


Figure 3. Predicted May fire activity from the National Interagency Fire Center.

Water a precious commodity in California in 2013
As of May 2, California's Sierra Mountain snowpack was just 17% of average for the date, with a water content more typical of what is seen in early July. That's bad news for a state that relies on a steady stream of meltwater to keep reservoirs filled during the summer. The poor 2012 - 2013 snow season comes on the heels of a poor 2011 - 2012 snow season, as well. But thanks to good water years leading up to 2011 - 2012, two key reservoirs are above 80% capacity: Lake Oroville, the main reservoir for the State Water Project (86%), and Lake Shasta, the main reservoir for farmers in California's Central Valley (83%.) So, California will likely weather the dry conditions of the summer of 2013--but the snows of the winter of 2013 - 2014 had better be plentiful, or the state could be looking at a serious water shortage in 2014.


Figure 4. The water content of the snowpack in the Southern Sierra Mountains of California, from San Joaquin through Kern and Owens, was 9% of average for the date on May 2, 2013 (and 7% of the average for April 1.) The snowpack is usually not this thin until early July. Statewide, the snowpack was 17% of average for the date. Image credit: California Department of Water Resources.

Amazing May snowstorm smashes more records
A rare and historic May snowstorm continues to set all-time snow and cold records for the month of May. Winter Storm Achilles brought Arkansas its first May snowfall in recorded history this morning, and four other states have set unofficial new May snowfall records for a 2-day storm: 18" in Blooming Prairie Minnesota (previous record of 15"); 17" in Rice Lake, Wisconsin (previous record, 15.4"); 12" in Chariton, Iowa (previous record: 8"), and 6" in Warrensburg, MO (previous record: 4.5".)

Here are the latest peak snowfall totals by state as of 11am EDT May 3:

Buckhorn Mtn., CO: 28.2"
Near Warren AFB, WY: 22.3"
Blooming Prairie, MN: 18"
Rice Lake, WI: 17"
Bessemer, MI: 13"
Chariton, IA: 12"
Dalton, NE: 8.5"
Beresford, SD: 6"
Warrensburg, MO: 6"
Traer, KS: 5.3"
Maysville, AR: 3"
West Siloam Springs, OK: 1.5"

And here is a partial list of cities that have set all-time low temperature records for the month of May:

Shreveport, LA: 41° on May 3 (previous May record: 42°) Records for the city go back to 1874.
Abilene, TX: 33° on May 3 (tied with 33° on May 4, 1907.)
Denver, CO: 19° on May 2 (tied with 19° on May 3, 1872)
Fort Benton, MT: 14° on May 2 (tied with 14° on May 10, 1946)
Denton, MT: 9° on May 2 (previous May record: 13° set on May 1, 2005.) Denton's records began in 1948.

Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt plans to fully document the records from this week's epic storm in his post coming on Saturday.


Figure 5. The jet stream pattern for Winter Storm Achilles showed a very high-amplitude trough over the Midwest U.S., which allowed record-breaking cold air to flow southwards out of Canada.

Nor'easter for Northeast Florida
Adding to Mother Nature's unusually varied bag of tricks for the U.S. today is a very wet and windy Nor'easter centered just east of Melbourne, which is lashing the east coast of Florida with heavy rains and rough surf. The storm brought 8.29" of rain to St. Augustine, Florida in the 24 hours ending at 8 am EDT May 3, and a daily record deluge of 1.7" of rain to Orlando, 3.1" to Fort Lauderdale, and 4.14" to Key West on May 2. The storm also spawned an EF-0 tornado with 70 mph winds that touched down in Boca Raton on May 2, causing minor damage. Radar loops out of Melbourne, Florida show disorganized heavy rain bands with a bit of rotation just offshore, and satellite loops show disorganized heavy thunderstorms extend from Cape Canaveral to Georgia. Development into a subtropical depression is unlikely due to very high wind shear of 40 knots, but this system will hang around through Saturday, generating heavy rains of up to three inches along the northeast coast of Florida. Gale warnings and flood watches are posted along much of the East Central and Northeast coasts of Florida.

Jeff Masters

Springtime snow melt (kalving00)
Taken from about 6800' elevation on the north side of Anthony Peak. Only 1-2' of snow left in the deepest drifts... very little for this early in Spring.
Springtime snow melt
Raging waters (minnesotamom)
Below Thomson Dam, snowmelt waters roaring down the rocky falls
Raging waters
Springs Fire 2 (LindyLu60)
10,000 acres 10% contained, numerous out buildings burned. No Homes are a total so far. Firefighters did an incredible job protecting homes on many different fronts. Started May 2nd and with Santa Ana winds blowing hot and dry, this fire blew up quickly. Now burning in a protected wilderness, so no fire retardent can be used. Now the winds have shifted, and it's burning in a totally different direction. Whole neighborhoods are under immediate evacuations. And the smoke covers much of Ventura .
Springs Fire 2

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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1319. MrMixon
4:11 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
The low pressure system off the California coast has become pretty severely stretched since just last night:

LAST NIGHT:



NOW:

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1318. weathermanwannabe
3:59 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Good Morning. Not much to report in terms of the Atlantic this am. The two lows (over the US and the one in the central Atlantic) firmly in control and sheering everything to death.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1317. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
3:58 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
JeffMasters has created a new entry.
1316. FunnelVortex
3:57 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Cant stop loving this low.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1315. Torito
3:53 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:


It doesnt look too strong though


I think it will break up over cuba...
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1314. Torito
3:52 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Huge mess here...

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1313. FunnelVortex
3:52 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting Torito:


LOL not much going on other than that suspicious wave..


It doesnt look too strong though
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1312. Torito
3:50 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:
Tomorrow's West Atlantic forecast.



Don't get too excited though...


LOL not much going on other than that suspicious wave..
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1311. FunnelVortex
3:49 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Tomorrow's West Atlantic forecast.



Don't get too excited though...
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1310. FunnelVortex
3:46 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting Slamguitar:
Not much going on with this:



Thank goodness, no El Ninio.
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1309. Slamguitar
3:44 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Not much going on with this:

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1308. Torito
3:43 PM GMT on May 06, 2013


Warm seas...
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1307. Jedkins01
3:41 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting StormTrackerScott:
10th warmest April on record in Orlando. My location has had 12.23" of rain since April 1st. I can tell you this there is no sign of drought now as all the lakes around here are full.

-ORLANDO HAD AN AVERAGE MONTHLY TEMPERATURE OF 74.2 DEGREES
FAHRENHEIT, WHICH WAS 3.0 DEGREES ABOVE NORMAL. THIS TIES 1999 AS
THE 10TH WARMEST APRIL ON RECORD FOR THIS SITE.



DAILY RECORD TEMPERATURES FOR THE MONTH:

DAYTONA BEACH:
-APRIL 12: TIED RECORD WARM LOW OF 71 DEGREES LAST SET IN 1979.
-APRIL 19: TIED RECORD WARM LOW OF 72 DEGREES LAST SET IN 1972.

ORLANDO:
-APRIL 11: TIED RECORD WARM LOW OF 70 DEGREES LAST SET IN 1944.
-APRIL 12: RECORD WARM LOW OF 73 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 70
DEGREES SET IN 1999 AND 1944.
-APRIL 19: RECORD WARM LOW OF 71 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 70
DEGREES SET IN 2006, 1920 AND 1900.

MELBOURNE:
-APRIL 9: TIED RECORD WARM LOW OF 71 DEGREES LAST SET IN 2008.
-APRIL 11: RECORD WARM LOW OF 74 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 73
DEGREES SET IN 1947.
-APRIL 12: RECORD WARM LOW OF 75 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 71
DEGREES SET IN 1995 AND 1994.
-APRIL 28: RECORD WARM LOW OF 74 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 73
DEGREES SET IN 1994.

VERO BEACH:
-APRIL 11: TIED RECORD WARM LOW OF 74 DEGREES LAST SET IN 1995.
-APRIL 12: RECORD HIGH OF 93 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 91 SET IN
2011 AND 1965.
-APRIL 12: RECORD WARM LOW OF 75 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 73
DEGREES SET IN 1995, 1994, 1991 AND 1947.
-APRIL 19: RECORD WARM LOW OF 74 DEGREES. PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 73
DEGREES SET IN 1998 AND 1990.



wow talk about major improvement! Great news for us because the true rainy season isn't far away. If the rainy season ends up being anything like last year we won't be dealing with again for who knows how long. The drought isn't as bad going into the rain season likely it was last year because ground water is way up. However heavy rains over the past month have helped with that even more.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1306. lostinohio
3:40 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
If this month continues as is here in North west Georgia, this will be one of the coldest May's I can remember in my 53 years of living.I was looking at the extended forecast with highs in the 70's though the month and this is unheard of here. With that in mind, can we anticipate a vengeful return to summer or a continuation into June? And if so,what will that mean for the early months of hurricane season in the gulf and atlantic?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1305. FunnelVortex
3:40 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting FtMyersgal:


If they still had Skew-T on wundermap, I would check those out.

BRING SKEW-T BACK!
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1304. Torito
3:40 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting FtMyersgal:


Nice globe.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1303. Torito
3:39 PM GMT on May 06, 2013


latest image of the convection above South America.
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1302. GeorgiaStormz
3:39 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Historical Crests for Chattahoochee River at Lake Lanier

(1) 1,077.15 ft on 04/14/1964
(2) 1,076.20 ft on 04/05/1977
(3) 1,075.99 ft on 04/15/1979
(4) 1,075.75 ft on 04/01/1976
(5) 1,075.19 ft on 03/19/1990
(6) 1,074.57 ft on 02/03/1996
(7) 1,073.91 ft on 05/02/1963
(8) 1,073.79 ft on 05/07/2003
(9) 1,073.58 ft on 08/18/1994
(10) 1,073.58 ft on 09/19/2004


we're moving toward number 10...may pass a few of these on the way up especially if it rains more today.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1301. FtMyersgal
3:38 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1300. FunnelVortex
3:38 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting Torito:


I hope it gets pushed north though...


These highs, maybe, just MAYBE be able to push it north, but I doubt it, but wont rule it out.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1299. RitaEvac
3:35 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting LargoFl:
Looks like Rita gets a wet weekend coming up............


Stalled frontal boundary looks like

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1298. Torito
3:35 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting FunnelVortex:


It will most likely stay on the continent and not move north.


I hope it gets pushed north though...
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1297. Torito
3:34 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
largo, your comments are glitching the blog again xD
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1296. GeorgiaStormz
3:34 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
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1295. PedleyCA
3:33 PM GMT on May 06, 2013


Break from the Heat for a few.
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1294. FunnelVortex
3:33 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting Torito:
Link

convection getting interesting over South America.


It will most likely stay on the continent and not move north.
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1293. Torito
3:32 PM GMT on May 06, 2013


Rotation in the middle of the united states looks awesome.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1292. Torito
3:29 PM GMT on May 06, 2013


south India sat.


Top left interests me.
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1291. GeorgiaStormz
3:28 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
The warmest 50F ever outside right now....feels like you are at the beach and all the sunlight is focused on you.
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1290. Torito
3:27 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting Torito:
Link

convection getting interesting over South America.


Woo! finally found the GIF for this image :D

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1289. LargoFl
3:24 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
I might get some showers tomorrow..................
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1288. Torito
3:24 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting MississippiWx:


MY EYES...They can't take the differing spins.


Sorry, my bad... xD
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1287. MississippiWx
3:22 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting Torito:
92B



94S



92W



MY EYES...They can't take the differing spins.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1286. LargoFl
3:22 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
well we have a couple of cool days then the heat returns....
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1285. Torito
3:18 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting LargoFl:
yeah i see that..wow


xD Never seen the forcast display rain this long, except for when remnants of TS hit us....
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1284. PedleyCA
3:17 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Got some rain this morning. Airport reported .05. I saw on the News last night that the Gorgonio Fire is 100% contained and the Springs Fire is 80% contained. The rain is coming down pretty good in some areas according to the News which was a surprise to them. Wasn't supposed to be much more than a trace - a 1/10in total. 59.9F here
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1283. Torito
3:17 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
92B



94S



92W

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1282. LargoFl
3:15 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Looks like Rita gets a wet weekend coming up............
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1281. LargoFl
3:13 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting Torito:
Hey largo, look at my forcast, rain all week and longer possibly...

Link
yeah i see that..wow
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1280. Torito
3:12 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Link

convection getting interesting over South America.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1279. LargoFl
3:10 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Really Nice weather here, sunny, cool with a nice breeze..
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1278. Torito
3:05 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Hey largo, look at my forcast, rain all week and longer possibly...

Link
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1277. Torito
3:04 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting GeorgiaStormz:
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN HUNTSVILLE HAS EXTENDED THE

* FLOOD WARNING FOR...
SOUTHWESTERN JACKSON COUNTY IN NORTHEAST ALABAMA...
MARSHALL COUNTY IN NORTHEAST ALABAMA...
SOUTHEASTERN MADISON COUNTY IN NORTH CENTRAL ALABAMA...
SOUTHWESTERN DEKALB COUNTY IN NORTHEAST ALABAMA...

* UNTIL 1145 AM CDT

* AT 729 AM CDT...DOPPLER RADAR AND AUTOMATED RAIN AND RIVER GAUGES
INDICATED THAT MODERATE TO HEAVY RAIN WAS FALLING OVER ALL OF
MARSHALL COUNTY...SOUTHEASTERN MADISON...SOUTHWESTERN
JACKSON...AND SOUTHWESTERN DEKALB COUNTIES THIS MORNING.
WIDESPREAD AMOUNTS UP TO TWO INCHES OF RAIN HAS ALREADY
FALLEN...WITH ISOLATED HIGHER AMOUNTS OVER SOUTHERN MARSHALL AND
DEKALB COUNTIES MEASURING BETWEEN THREE AND FOUR INCHES SINCE 2 AM
CDT.


*RUNOFF FROM THIS RAINFALL WILL CONTINUE THROUGH THE LATE MORNING
HOURS. SEVERAL ROADS ARE ALREADY CLOSED IN SOUTHERN MARSHALL AND
SOUTHWESTERN DEKALB COUNTIES...AND THE ADDITIONAL RAINFALL THROUGH
NOON WILL ONLY AGGRAVATE THE ONGOING FLOODING IN THESE AREAS.

WILL ONLY AGGRAVATE THE ONGOING FLOODING SITUATION.





its been raining and not moving there all night. Heavy at times



since friday^


Dont worry, it will dissipate before long..
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1276. RitaEvac
2:34 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Activity in W TX

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1275. RitaEvac
2:33 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting DFWdad:


Really! DFW had only 50's. Weird how y'all are further south but cooler. Go figure a steady NW breeze in May? This blocking patter is odd, but I like it! We had our first 100 degree day of a record summer in May, two summers ago.



This was at 6am, so it might be lower:

New may 6th record low temperatures established this morning at
both Houston Intercontinental Airport and Houston hobby Airport...

The low temperature so far today at Houston Intercontinental Airport
has been 49 degrees. This breaks the old record low temperature for
today of 50 degrees set in 1970.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1274. Chicklit
2:29 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Seventy degrees and sunny at 10:30 a.m. here in ECFL coast today. Already looking forward to cutting down some kudzu in the trees this weekend.

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1273. DFWdad
2:26 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting RitaEvac:
Man it was still in the upper 40s this morning here in SE TX, record breaking cold.


Really! DFW had only 50's. Weird how y'all are further south but cooler. Go figure a steady NW breeze in May? This blocking patter is odd, but I like it! We had our first 100 degree day of a record summer in May, two summers ago.
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1272. SFLWeatherman
2:21 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Ponds are overflowing by me!!! big time!!
Quoting OrchidGrower:
Re: #1261 -- I remember (from TV news accounts) a very wet year for Florida, I think it was back in the early 90s, and the poor deer in the Everglades got hoof rot because there was no dry ground. I am wondering if we could wind up with a year like that this year, if the rainy season comes early.
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1271. rmbjoe1954
2:21 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Quoting SFLWeatherman:
100%



It was 56 degrees as well in Port St. Lucie. Oddly enough, Fayetteville North Carolina had the same temperature this morning.
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1270. OrchidGrower
2:15 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Re: #1261 -- I remember (from TV news accounts) a very wet year for Florida, I think it was back in the early 90s, and the poor deer in the Everglades got hoof rot because there was no dry ground. I am wondering if we could wind up with a year like that this year, if the rainy season comes early.
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1269. RitaEvac
2:12 PM GMT on May 06, 2013
Had some kind of secondary push of cool air yesterday, because on Saturday morning when we had record breaking cold the winds came outta the SW that afternoon and warmed nicely, then yesterday we had winds back outta the NW and it was cooler. Weather has me bamboozled.
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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