Front expected to end dry air, bring a stormy weekend to Tampa Bay

Warnings were issued Wednesday that conditions were favorable for wildfires. Now Tampa Bay must prepare for a weekend of rain.
An extended forecast from the National Weather Service's Ruskin office.
An extended forecast from the National Weather Service's Ruskin office. [ National Weather Service ]
Published March 30, 2022|Updated March 30, 2022

Florida. Sunny one minute, soggy the next.

Like this week, for example. A dry Wednesday prompted officials to issue rare wildfire warnings across the region. Now, the region must brace for strong to severe thunderstorms Thursday night and a rainy weekend.

The rough weather is coming from the northwest as a cold front approaches, said Austen Flannery, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Ruskin office. There will be an 80 percent chance of rain Thursday night — the first of four days where rain chances are at least 40 percent.

Thunderstorms will first reach Hernando and Pasco counties Thursday afternoon, while southeast winds blow 13 to 22 mph, the Weather Service said. Some gusts may be even stronger.

There is an 80 percent chance of rain Friday, dropping to a 60 percent chance by the evening. Saturday will have similar conditions, with a 70 percent chance of showers all day, followed by a 40 percent chance Sunday, the Weather Service said.

“We could see some stronger storms working into the area as a cold front sinks further into the south and stalls out over the area,” said Flannery. “We’re going to keep unsettled weather in the forecast into the weekend.”

The rain brings a slight cooling in temperatures. Highs will be in the low 80s for the weekend with lows in the upper 60s. The high Wednesday in Tampa, by comparison, eclipsed 90.

Thursday’s rain will put an end to Tampa Bay’s wildfire threat. On Wednesday morning, people stepped outside to the smell of smoke from controlled burns conducted by the Florida Fire Service. A red flag warning was issued, which meant the region was at high risk of wildfires starting and spreading.

The Florida Panhandle was ravaged by wildfires earlier this month. Flames forced the evacuations of more than a thousand homes and burned at least 1,400 acres. On Florida’s east coast, meantime, low visibility caused by smoke from a prescribed burn — paired with morning fog — led to a crash on Interstate 95 that killed three people earlier this month.

This weekend’s rain will spread beyond Tampa Bay. Nearly the entire state is expected to be drenched by the same front, the Weather Service said.