Tallahassee and the Big Bend region are in the midst of a dry spell, having gone weeks without significant rainfall. Those conditions are the cause of a number of wildfires in the Apalachicola National Forest.
The latter half of May was a dry period, which isn’t atypical, save for its delay of the rainy season according to University of Florida chief meteorologist Jeff Huffman.
“It’s not unusual for May to be dry, it’s one of the drier months, climatologically speaking, in the Panhandle,” Huffman said. “As we get into late May though, typically the rainy season starts to begin, and that’s been delayed this year.”
Huffman adds recent weather conditions have left the area at a deficit for rainfall.
“We’ve also had a very persistent ridge of high pressure aloft, and at the surface. It’s led to the heat wave that we’ve experienced. It’s also led to a two and a half week stretch here without measurable rain in Tallahassee,” Huffman said. “We’re running about two, two and a half inches below normal in terms of rainfall since May 1.”
That lack of rain has contributed to a number of wildfires that are currently burning in the Apalachicola National Forest. U.S. Forest Service public information officer Steve Staudt says six fires range in size from three acres to 521 acres. Two of those fires are between 100 and 150 acres, and another is between 200 and 225 acres.
“When you get into a dry spell like this, and then you have brief periods of rain or thunderstorms, a lot of that lightening is going to spark fire,” Staudt said. “It will hit a ground that’s already been dried out by the heat and the low humidity, and that’s what gets a fire started real quick.”
But, Huffman says, some relief may be on the horizon.
“We have a disturbance that we’re keeping an eye on in the gulf. The hurricane center has been watching it closely for potential tropical development – that’s not a concern in terms of a tropical entity. In fact, it could be good news for much of Florida and the Southeast,” Huffman said. “Upper level winds are likely to steer some of that tropical moisture that’s moving toward Texas in our direction later this week. I think rain chances will be gradually on the rise, especially after Wednesday or Thursday.”
Huffman says the long-term forecast suggests the Tallahassee area could get widespread, heavier rain this coming weekend. Meanwhile, Staudt says Forest Service staff are staying vigilant for new fires that may pop up, as there is a chance of thunderstorms later in the week.