Florida Winter Weather Outlook 2023: Will El Nino bring more rain, storms to the Sunshine State?

ORLANDO, Fla. - Winter in Florida doesn't usually mean snow or flurries, but sunshine, sunglasses, and flip-flops. However, with a strong El Niño weather pattern seemingly more possible across the U.S., Florida could see more rain and wet weather than usual this time of year.

This El Niño is a bit unique in that the U.S. as a whole hasn't seen an El Niño winter in nearly four years. So, here's the FOX 35 winter outlook for Central Florida, including how dry or wet it could be, how much rain areas could see, and the average temperatures we usually see.

What is El Niño– and how does it impact our weather?

NOAA described El Niño like this: "El Niño is a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with warming of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which can significantly influence weather patterns, ocean conditions, and marine fisheries worldwide."

It typically occurs every 2-7 years and lasts 9-12 months and has its largest impacts during the winter months.

What does this mean?

During an El Niño winter, the subtropical jet stream, an area of fast-moving upper-level winds that hangs out near the tropical regions, is much more energized and active.

This acts as a conveyor belt for storm systems to roll across the Pacific into California, continue through the Southern Plains and Deep South and eventually into Florida, where they can still be loaded with energy and moisture.

This type of pattern can deliver higher-than-average rain amounts, below average temperatures, and the possibility of severe weather, such as damaging winds, thunder, lightning, and even tornadoes.

"From December through February, NOAA predicts wetter-than-average conditions are most likely in northern Alaska, some areas of the West from parts of California to the south-central Rockies, the southern Plains, Gulf Coast, Southeast and lower Mid-Atlantic. With the greatest odds for drier-than-average conditions lingering for portions of the northern Rockies and central Great Lakes region, especially for Michigan and northern Ohio and Indiana," according to NOAA's prediction (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

How will El Niño impact Florida's winter weather?

The next few months across Central Florida are designated as the "dry season" but, with a more energized winter pattern coming to fruition, it may be anything but dry.

According to the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida, Central Florida averages between 8 to 10 inches of rainfall during a typical winter. But during El Niño winters, that rainfall total rises to between 10 and 13 inches.

The overall forecast for the 2023-2024 dry season (November-April) favors above normal rainfall across Central Florida due to ongoing El Niño conditions that will strengthen through the winter and are anticipated to continue through the spring. 

Central Florida leads the entire state for above average rainfall during El Niño winters, with some locations averaging as much as five inches above normal. This type of rain can be a blessing for the area in terms of keeping wildfire risks low but it can create flooding concerns during the 2024 rainy season as the grounds will already be saturated.

El Niño means potential for severe weather

Unfortunately, there is a direct connection between a strong El Niño and increased severe weather in Florida due to the energy flowing in from the Western United States. This energy can be found in the narrow band of stronger winds coursing across the region.

This set-up can lead to an increased threat for severe weather, especially when it comes to tornadoes.

Past El Niño events, especially strong events, have been tied tightly to well above-normal storminess and strong tornadoes across the Florida Peninsula between November and April. Extratropical cyclones can produce big rains, destructive straightline winds, tornadoes and coastal issues like flooding, and beach erosion. The number of low pressure systems passing near or over the state often increases during El Niño episodes due an extension of the subtropical jet stream over the southern United States.

To be clear, it's too soon to determine what, if any, severe weather we'll have. But, the possibility is always there as systems development. Make sure to download the FOX 35 News app, FOX 35 Weather app, and watch FOX 35 newscasts for the latest weather headlines, updates, and forecasts.

Does that mean it will be a colder winter in Florida? Or a warmer winter in Florida?

It depends.

While we're known for our mild winters usually, the El Nino effect can cause shifts in how cold or warm days will be in Florida. Right now, the Climate Prediction Center is giving much of the southeast – from most of South Carolina to Georgia to Florida and Alabama – equal chances for an average, above average, or below average temperatures.

So, it will depend on the weather patterns day by day, and possibly week by week.

Regarding winter’s chill, El Nino-type cold fronts can be quite strong, which can occasionally bring freezing temperatures and frost to the area. It's hard to forecast when and how likely that is to happen in Florida right now, but good to download the FOX 35 News app for the latest weather forecasts and outlooks.

Frost in Florida can be hazardous to both the agriculture and farming communities, as well as the tropical plants many of us have outside our homes.

For those up in the northeast – Washington, Idaho, northern California – there is an above-average chance for above-average temperatures, as well as a majority of the northern U.S. and Central Plains.

During El Niño winters, the storm's track across the nation from west to east, which usually means less of the Arctic air from the north parts of the country. This means the subtropical jet stream along the Gulf Coast can remain in place beyond the winter months. As the subtropical jet hangs around Florida and the southeast, it can produce more areas of low pressure, which usually creates more clouds and rain. More clouds and rain helps keep the temperatures low, which means cooler days in Florida.

What about drought conditions in Florida?

While wetter conditions in Florida may not be good news for the beach or theme park days, it would be a positive for our state's drought.

Much of the southern U.S. – Texas to Alabama – as well as the desert west – Arizona and New Mexico – are in drought conditions, meaning low rainfall or below average rainfall. However, wetter conditions would hopefully improve some of those drought conditions.

Currently, portions of the Florida Panhandle, northern Florida, and along the western coast from Tampa to Miami, are considered to be in drought. While much of Central Florida and the eastern side of Florida are not considered to be in drought, according to the U.S. Drought monitor.