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Warm winter could mean buggy spring in Tampa Bay

A lady bug scours a mango blossom in a Clearwater yard for microscopic critters to eat. The National Weather Service has named January 2013 as among the top 10 warmest Januaries ever recorded for Tampa. This has caused plants around Tampa Bay to start showing flowers. This could mess up the rest of the seasons and make things difficult this summer.
A lady bug scours a mango blossom in a Clearwater yard for microscopic critters to eat. The National Weather Service has named January 2013 as among the top 10 warmest Januaries ever recorded for Tampa. This has caused plants around Tampa Bay to start showing flowers. This could mess up the rest of the seasons and make things difficult this summer.
Published Feb. 6, 2013

TAMPA — The unseasonably warm winter has been a delight for tourists and beachgoers.

It also has been a breeding ground for bugs.

In fact, should Tampa Bay get its usual spring rain, all manner of bugs likely will be out in force, experts say.

"Warm means that insects could become active sooner," said Eileen Buss, a University of Florida associate professor of entomology.

The warmer winters essentially act as an alarm clock for plants and bugs, which spring into action, Buss said. Since last month was the eighth-warmest January in Tampa history, the stage is set.

Add a little rain and that could mean more mosquitoes, more termites, more ants.

Mosquitoes, particularly the kind that carry West Nile virus, are a particular concern.

"One of the concerns we have is we're going to have a much more severe virus transmission season," said Jonathan Day, University of Florida professor of medical entomology.

The West Nile virus can cause fever in mild cases, but the serious cases have symptoms of disorientation, high fever, tremors and convulsions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be deadly. Last year produced only one human case in the Tampa Bay area.

The next few months will determine the level of bugginess.

If the region gets its usual 2 to 3 inches of rain per month, it will give bugs a place to breed and multiply, Buss said. If it stays dry, the impact will be less.

Bugs, of course, aren't the only problem.

Warm winters bring earlier budding of plants and oak trees, which jump-starts allergy season, said Richard Lochey, director for the Allergy and Immunology division at University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine.

Despite the early start, Lochey said the season is predicted to be over by mid March.

The warm winter has been caused by a series of weather developments, said Charlie Paxton, National Weather Service science and operations officer.

First, severely cold weather from the arctic has not made it to Florida.

Second, the La Niña atmospheric pattern has set up off the West Coast, meaning drier weather for Florida.

Lastly, a dome of high pressure has been over Florida for much of the winter, trapping warm air over the state.

In 1937, Tampa had its warmest January on record with an average temperature of 72.4 degrees.

Contact Meredith Rutland at mrutland@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804.

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