La Nina: What does it mean for Florida?

By Jamie Martin, Meteorologist
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 10:38 PM EDT

Weather experts say we're moving out of El Nino and might see a swing toward La Nina later this year.

What does that mean for us here in Florida?

1998 was indeed a very active weather year. We started with flooding in January, February and March. Then the rains stopped. Really stopped. Very little rain fell in April, May and June.

Then, record breaking heat throughout June helped spark incredibly destructive fires across Central Florida. During the wildfire season that year, more than half a million acres burned, resulting in damage and suppression costs of nearly $400 million.

So why is 1998 significant to this year? We had just come out of a strong El Nino over the winter and reversed almost immediately to a strong La Nina. Having a strong El Nino or strong La Nina can have a big effect on Florida weather and hurricane season.

We may not be following the exact timing of 1998 but the strong La Nina in '98 made for record breaking tropical activity.

It was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane season in over 200 years. Over 11,000 people were killed, most of them due to flooding in Central America from Hurricane Mitch. There were a total of 14 tropical systems, and on September 25, there were four hurricanes — Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl — moving across the Atlantic at the same time. That was the first time such an event occurred in the 20th century.

In the short span of 35 days, starting Aug. 19 and ending on Sept. 23, 10 named tropical cyclones formed. That's around an entire season’s worth of activity in only a little more than a month.

Two hurricanes made direct hits on Florida that year.

Earl made landfall as a Category 1 Hurricane near Panama City the morning of September 3. Earl produced an estimated storm surge of 8 feet in Franklin, Wakulla and Taylor counties and about 12 inches of rain in Panama City.

Georges moved into the Florida Straits early on the September 25 and intensified before making landfall near Key West. It had winds of 105 mph.

No one is saying that we will see a season exactly like 1998, but the thing to take from this is now is the time to get prepared.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.