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September was the hottest month on record in Tampa, ever. October is no better so far.

The sun rises over Tampa Bay at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
The sun rises over Tampa Bay at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 9, 2018

Both Rod Landers and his truck drink more in the heat.

The 49-year-old sticks to water, and fruit for the electrolytes. His truck, a refrigerated rig that hauls meat and provisions for area restaurants, slurps gasoline all day long to ensure the air conditioner stays running.

"It's been a real hot one," said Landers on Friday, removing his baseball hat to wipe sweat from his forehead. "It's been every day."

He's right.

In Tampa, September was the hottest of any month ever on record, with an average temperature of 85.8 degrees, surpassing the previous record of 85.6 set in June 1998.

And around the bay, the month was the hottest September on record in 10 places, according to the National Weather Service, including in Plant City, Tarpon Springs, Lakeland and Brooksville, where the average temperature was anywhere from 2 to 5 degrees above normal.

October so far is providing little relief.

Last week, high temperatures ran five to six degrees above normal for early October around the Tampa Bay area, regularly surpassing 90. The high is normally rooted in the 80s by now. The Thursday high of 92 at Tampa International Airport tied the previous record for Oct. 4, set in 2007.

The reason for the heat is a stubborn bubble of high pressure that has parked itself over the southeastern U.S., shielding our corner of the country from the cold fronts that are dropping snow on Canada and North Dakota and Minnesota. It's also driving wind from the east.

For temperatures, the direction of the wind is important. The Tampa Bay area often gets winds from the west off the Gulf of Mexico. The sea breezes are cooler and bring with them humidity. While the moisture may make it feel like a steam room outside, soggy air is harder to heat up, so the thermometers don't tick up quite so high.

And that humidity brings predictable rain, which cools the ground.

But wind from the east dumps all its rain over the Atlantic coast. The air dries out before it reaches Tampa Bay, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Shiveley. That arid air left over for gulf coasters heats up fast, which accounts for the higher-than-normal temperature readings. Plus, there's little rain to help cool the ground in the peak of the heat each afternoon.

"That's what really allowed September to be the warmest September on record," said Brian LaMarre, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service's Ruskin branch.

This high pressure mass was also partly responsible for the dramatic and devastating effects of Hurricane Florence last month in the Carolinas. The storm slowed when it bumped up against the high pressure, LaMarre said, giving it more time to batter coastal towns with tidal surge and pelt the states with record rainfall. Florence is blamed for at least 50 deaths, according to news reports.

While it may be tempting, LaMarre cautioned against blaming climate change for the recent heat wave. It was driven by short-term weather patterns.

"What we're looking at with climate change is a much larger global pattern over a much longer period of time," he said. Years or even decades.

"So there is no connection with, say, September was the hottest month in Tampa."

Though, he said, scientists use three-decade periods to establish "30-year normals," and the period from 1981 to 2010 was warmer than the previous period, from 1971 to 2000. And the next period, from 1991 to 2020, is on track to be even warmer.

So hot, now, is hotter than it was 30 years ago.

"Because of a warmer climate, we're seeing that each year we're breaking these records," LaMarre said. "Climate change is about extremes in weather. We're seeing more extremes in weather as a result of a changing climate."

Shiveley said the warm weather will likely hold on a bit longer until the high pressure ridge weakens, and cold fronts start to break through.

That would be welcome news for Landers, who on Friday had just restocked downtown St. Petersburg eatery the Iberian Rooster in the 88-degree heat — though the feels-like temperature broiled at 97. But he kept his expectations low for the rest of October.

"Hopefully next month it'll cool off," he said.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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