Panhandle has warmest February since 1932
Water temperature '4 to 6 degrees above normal'
This year’s winter has been unseasonably warm — and if above-average temperatures continue, they could cause an earlier start for the gulf's tropical storm season.
According to the National Weather Service, Northwest Florida hasn’t experienced a February as warm as last month since 1932 — or a winter (December-February) that warm since 1950.
John Purdy, lead forecaster with the NWS office in Mobile, Alabama, said the above-average temperatures could last through summer.
“There’s about a 45 percent chance of above normal temperatures through the spring and summer,” Purdy said. “So that’s not good for warm gulf waters and tropical cycle developments. We’re looking at probably earlier developments for tropical cycles.”
Purdy said the reason for the warm winter temperatures stems from a lack of jet stream air circulating from the north.
“The jet stream has not really come down as far south as it normally does,” he said. “The jet stream, which is the ribbon of fast moving air in the upper parts of the atmosphere, is usually dipping down this time of year into the southeastern states, bringing with it periodic outbreaks of cold air.”
The warmer air also mean warmer water. Anglers are expecting an earlier-than-normal cobia run this year, as cobia catching time is at its best when the water is between 62 and 65 degrees.
The water temperatures the past few weeks have been pushing 67 degrees.
“The gulf temperatures in the northern Gulf of Mexico, just south of the western Florida Panhandle, are running 4 to 6 degrees above normal,” Purdy said. “There’s a buoy 12 miles south of Gulf Shores (Alabama), and the water temps there are 67. Usually we’re in the low 60s this time of year over the northern Gulf of Mexico waters."
In the Choctawhatchee Bay, monitoring coordinator Brandy Foley with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance said their organization is also seeing higher-than-usual water temperatures.
“The numbers we got from our samplings were higher than what we generally see,” Foley said, adding that the water temperatures in the bay will generally be higher than the Gulf because it’s more shallow.
But, Foley cautioned that the higher temperatures shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm.
“I personally don’t feel too alarmed by the bay temperatures, because it does vary so much,” she said. “It’s also been a much warmer winter than what we’ve had, so we would expect to see warmer temperatures.”