One of the warmest winters on record across Tampa Bay is forecast to give way to a hot and dry spring, worsening drought conditions and increasing chances of a busy wildfire season.
Temperatures for March, April and May are expected to be about 2 to 3 degrees above normal while the amount of rain should be about 30 to 50 percent below normal, said Jack Boston, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather.com.
The normal temperature over this period is 72.6. The average rainfall is 7.16 inches.
"It is not good that we have a dry forecast," Boston said. "The soil is extremely dry."
Tampa Bay is in a moderate to severe drought, according to the U.S. drought monitor. Those drought conditions are expected to worsen, meteorologists say.
Bay News 9 meteorologist Brian McClure was cautious about the longer-term predictions.
"This is what spring is like in Florida,'' he said. "Yes, it may be a little warmer, but remember we're in the driest time of the year. And when it's drier, it's likely to be a little warmer."
Forecasters also are closely monitoring warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the role that could play on an early hurricane season.
"The warm water is not going away," Boston said. "It's definitely a concern."
At the end of February, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico were nearly 2 degrees above average. Water temperatures in the Atlantic also were above normal.
McClure said it is unclear if the warmer temperatures will stick around and what, if any, effect they would have on hurricane season.
"It may be a degree or so warmer, but the gulf is always changing. … It's not like the Atlantic," he said. "A cool front could drop down and change the temperature of the gulf very quickly.''