BY MARISSA LANG
Times Staff Writer
Carrying a wicker basket, visual artist Samson vanOverwater ducked into an air conditioned store in downtown St. Petersburg, looking for a little relief from the oppressive heat.
"It's suffocatingly hot, like being in a warm woolen coat in the basement of an abandoned building in Beirut," he said.
The artist may have been waxing poetic, but there's no mistaking the extreme of this spring.
Weather experts said Monday it was the second-hottest spring ever in the Tampa Bay area, and the latest in a slew of record-shattering weather events in Florida.
As summer begins today, Tampa Bay residents are already reeling from three consecutive weeks of 90-plus temperatures. The mercury hit 94 Monday in Tampa, and 92 in St. Petersburg. What the temperature felt like hovered around 100.
The springtime sizzle meant both cities have had an average temperature of more than 79 degrees since the beginning of April. The all-time record for Tampa, just tenths of a degree higher than this year, was set last year, while 1991 saw the hottest spring in St. Petersburg.
"Without a lot of rain and without a lot of clouds, we just have lots of sunshine and it's hot," said Juli Marquez, Bay News 9 meteorologist.
The heat was caused by a massive high pressure system hovered over the Gulf of Mexico, trapping warm air and preventing sea breezes from blowing cooling cloud cover into the area, said Chris Fenimore, a physical scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But the spring heat is only the latest in a series of extreme weather since 2009.
The winter of 2009 and 2010 produced historic cold. Last summer, Tampa Bay records evaporated as all-time high temperatures scorched the region. Then came another record cold winter which devastated crops and animals.
While weather experts debate the cause, many attribute it to changing environmental conditions paired with unusually strong weather patterns.
But Jeff Masters, director of meteorology and founder of wunderground.com, said heightened levels of carbon dioxide in the air and greenhouse gas emissions are only part of the story.
Last year, carbon dioxide levels were the highest ever recorded, Masters said, but that alone could not cause such dramatic weather patterns. He cited the importance of El Nino, warm surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and La Nina, colder surface waters in the same, and the direct effect they can have on U.S. weather.
Wiping beads of sweat from their brows Monday afternoon, several Tampa Bay residents grumbled about climate change and global warming as they blamed human carelessness for their discomfort.
Last month, Florida cities recorded 71 all-time high temperatures. Three weeks into June, that number is 77.
Rain is predicted to arrive by the end of the week, but high temperatures are unlikely to drop below average.
"I don't like it, but I guess it's right," said 47-year-old Bruce Wilson, a construction worker. "Florida is what it's supposed to be: hot."