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Cold front brings brief respite to Tampa Bay after record heat in 2020

The Tampa Bay region is on track to see its hottest year on record. So enjoy the cool weather while it lasts — which is basically Thursday.

For those tired of the near constant heat in Tampa Bay this year, step outside and breathe in the cool air.

A cold front entered the region Tuesday and is expected to stay through Thursday. Temperatures could break into the upper 40s in Hernando County on Wednesday morning, said Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker, while Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough will stay in the low 50s. Highs will top out in the mid-70s.

“We’re set up for cool evenings and cool mornings over the next couple of days, and sunny and nice afternoons,” Linker said.

Tampa Bay will start to warm up again this weekend — but not to temperatures in the upper 80s, which have been pretty constant through October and early November. Linker also expects dew points to stay well below average, meaning drier air.

In 2020, Tampa has endured its hottest year on record through Nov. 16, said National Weather Service meteorologist Austen Flannery, who works in the Ruskin bureau. This year has had the highest average temperature on record, Flannery said.

The previous hottest year on record was 2017, which had an average temperature of 76.1. But if more cold weather rolls in, Flannery said there’s still time for 2020′s hot streak to cool down.

“We’re very likely to see some more cold fronts and have some more opportunities for things to cool off a little bit,” he said.

If that doesn’t happen, however, Tampa Bay’s heat would be the latest meteorological record set in 2020.

Tampa tied its hottest day on record on June 26 when the weather service’s thermometer at Tampa International reached 99 degrees. In the Atlantic, a record 30 named storms have formed this year. That surpasses the 2005 record of 28 named storms — and storms could continue developing this year past the official end of hurricane season on Nov. 30.

Related: Tampa tied a record high with 99 degrees this year. When will it hit 100?

So, what gives with the weather in 2020?

“It’s tricky to pin down a specific reason,” Flannery said. “We’ve seen a lot of records and there’s a lot of variability from year to year. There’s been a lot of warm years in the past decade and several times we’ve seen records break and then be broken again.”

Tampa’s average high temperature in November was 85 before Tuesday’s cold front, data shows. November’s average historic temperature is 78. The seven-degree discrepancy is similar for October, which had an average high of 89 this year as opposed to its historic average of 84.

It’s too early to tell how the weather will be for the rest of 2020, Flannery said. But there’s one factor in play that would favor a drier and milder winter: The presence of La Niña.

La Niña is the atmospheric phenomenon that cools Pacific Ocean temperatures, affecting weather patterns in the Atlantic and elsewhere. That’s why there is a 60 percent chance Florida will see higher-than-normal temperatures through winter, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center said at the end of October.

Florida had a warm winter last year, too, records show, despite it being a season without a La Niña or El Niño phenomenon appearing in the Pacific. That included thermometers at Tampa International Airport reaching 80 on Dec. 25 and the 2019 winter season being between six to nine degrees above average.

A graph in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's report that analyzed higher-than-average temperatures throughout Florida and the rest of the country in 2019.
A graph in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's report that analyzed higher-than-average temperatures throughout Florida and the rest of the country in 2019. [ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ]

Tampa Bay isn’t the only Florida region experiencing prolonged periods of warmer-than-usual weather. Data shows that Miami and Orlando are also on pace to see its warmest years on record.

A similar trend is in place for the country as a whole. As of Tuesday, there had been 208 records broken for temperature stations throughout the country in 2020, according to the weather service. But over that same time period, there had been just 13 record lows.