News Press

December 16, 2013

Southwest Florida weather boosting envy from the North

By Chad Gillis

Jack Frost isn’t nipping on anyone’s nose, but cool, clear conditions will persist here all week.

Winter officially starts Saturday, and while forecasters are calling for 80s by the weekend, cooler and windy conditions will prevail until then. Earlier this month, a high pressure system squatted over Florida, protecting the state from bone-chilling temperatures that blanketed much of the country. Temperatures during the first week of December produced near-record heat for the Fort Myers area.

Now the mercury is dipping below averages — but not for long.

Significantly cooler and drier air is in place, but as the week goes on we’ll see a gradual warm-up — a few degrees each day,” said Andrew McKaughan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. “These are quick cool-down events, and that pattern doesn’t stay in place (long) enough to have several days of cold weather.”

The NWS, and The Weather Channel are forecasting lows in the upper 40s to low 50s and highs in the mid to upper 70s this week. Today’s low is expected to be 50, or 6 degrees below normal, with a high of 75, which is 1 degree shy of normal for Dec. 17.

Cool conditions won’t last. Weekend temperatures should jump back up into the 80s. “We could get close to record highs later in the week,” McKaughan said.

Early winter is typically the time of year when manatees migrate from coastal summer grounds to inland rivers and creeks, which naturally stay a few degrees warmer than the Gulf of Mexico.

The Caloosahatchee River is a winter stronghold for manatees because the Florida Power & Light plant along State Road 80 discharges warm water into the Orange River, which flows into the Caloosahatchee. It's a man-made refuge that has been controversial among boating interests, who say the population is inflated because of the unnatural conditions found there.

Kevin Baxter with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said manatees are still in bays and estuaries in most areas.

Our folks haven’t seen or gotten reports of any large groups of manatees in the area moving toward warm-water sites,” Baxter said. “At last check, there have been a few individual manatees seen going in and out of Manatee Park, but no consistent crowd. There would likely need to be a prolonged stretch of cooler temperatures before this movement occurs.”

Manatees thrive in tropical conditions and are susceptible to cold-related illnesses once water temperatures fall to 68 degrees or lower. Gulf of Mexico water temperatures are nearly 72 degrees off Fort Myers Beach, according to Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Stress from cold-water conditions killed 33 manatees throughout Florida this year as of Dec. 6., according to FWC records. None of those deaths occurred in Lee, Collier or Charlotte counties. About 30 manatee die annually from cold stress. Cold stress and hypothermia claimed a record 282 manatees during a particularly cold 2010, according to FWC records.

Last winter, manatees made the cold weather move at the end of November. Conditions then were similar to this week — a warm spell followed by several cool nights.

McKaughan said meteorologists aren’t expecting particularly cold conditions in Southwest Florida anytime soon.

The pattern that I’m seeing right now we will probably have a warm-up into next week,” McKaughan said. “But once you get closer to Christmastime, it’s a little too far out to get a good idea of what’s going to be going on.”