ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Record global ocean warming has hit Florida with a vengeance.
Water temperatures in the mid-90s (mid-30s Celsius) threaten delicate coral reefs, preventing swimmers from taking a cooling dip and aggravating the Sunshine State’s already muggy summer weather. Forecasters are warning of temperatures that will feel like 110 degrees (43 degrees Celsius) by the end of the week, with humidity.
As if that weren’t enough, Florida is about to receive a dose of dust from Africa’s Sahara desert that is likely to affect air quality.
The world is coming off a week of heat not seen in modern readings, the World Meteorological Organization said Monday, using data from Japan’s weather agency to confirm unofficial data reported almost daily last week by the University’s Climate Reanalyzer or Maine. Japan reported that the global average temperature on Friday was half a degree (0.3 degrees Celsius) warmer than the previous record warmest day in August 2016.
Global sea surface temperatures have been at record highs since April and the North Atlantic has been at an all-time high since mid-March, meteorologists report as climate change is linked to more extreme and deadly events.
“We are in uncharted territory and we can expect more records to be broken,” said Christopher Hewitt, director of climate services for the WMO. “This is worrying news for the planet.”
Now it’s Florida’s turn.
The water temperature near Johnson Key came close to 96 degrees (35.6 degrees Celsius) on Sunday night, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration buoy. Another buoy read near 95 (35 degrees Celsius) near Vaca Key. These are about 5 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year, meteorologists said.
“That’s incredible,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Orrison. “The water is so warm that you really can’t cool down.”
While the 95 and 96-degree readings were in shallow water, “water temperatures are 90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit around much of Florida, which is extremely warm,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. He said his 95 degree pool doesn’t cool him down – it just wets him.
Water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and southwestern Atlantic Ocean are 4 to 5 degrees (2 to 3 degrees Celsius) warmer than normal, Orrison said. Because the water is so warm, the air in Florida gets more humid and “that makes it harder or more oppressive for people to get out and about,” he said.
The heat dome that baked Texas and Mexico through much of early summer has seeped its way into Florida with sunshine, little to no cooling clouds or rain, but humidity exacerbated by the hot oceans, Orrison and McNoldy said.
Not only will it stick around for a while because weather patterns seem to be stuck — a sign of climate change, some scientists argue — “it could actually get a little bit worse,” Orrison said, with additional heat and humidity that NOAA forecasts have called a heatwave. index around 110 over the weekend.
It could have been worse. Air temperatures of 110 are predicted for the southwestern U.S., including Arizona, New Mexico and southeastern California, Orrison said. Death Valley should see highs of 120 to 125 by the end of the week, and possibly a very unusual 130.
On Hollywood Beach, south of Fort Lauderdale, Monday’s 91 degrees was about average and Glenn Stoutt said the breeze allowed him to do lunges with a 15-pound weighted ball and gymnastics — even though he wore shoes on the blazing sand .
“It’s funny to see the new people and the tourists get halfway down the street and realize their feet are getting scorched,” Stoutt said. “They start running, but no matter how fast you run, you have to get them in the water.”
Scientists are concerned about the coral in that warmed water.
“There’s a good chance that heat stress is building up very early in the season, so we could be looking at nasty bleaching,” said Mark Eakin of the International Coral Reef Society, a retired NOAA top coral reef scientist. Bleach weakened coral; it takes prolonged heat to kill it.
“We’re already getting reports of bleaching out of Belize, which is very alarming this early in the summer,” said scientist Liv Williamson of the University of Miami’s Coral Reef Futures Lab. reefs, including on Pacific islands along the equator, the eastern tropical Pacific in Panama, the Caribbean coast of Central America and in Florida.
“This is only July, this heat will only continue to build up and these corals will be forced to deal with dangerously hot conditions for much longer than usual,” Williamson said in an email.
Coral bleaching and diebacks are becoming more common with climate change, especially during an El Nino, with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef losing half of its coral during the last super-major El Nino in 2016, Williamson said.
Scientists say another El Nino is part of the reason for the current heat, along with ever-increasing warming from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
Then there’s that Sahara dust.
With little rain to keep the soil grounded, it’s common at this time of year for plumes of dust from the Sahara desert to blow across the Atlantic in higher winds. It takes high winds to push them all the way to Florida, so it doesn’t happen often.
One plume settled over South Florida Monday and the next plume was expected later in the week, said Sammy Hadi, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami. The plumes usually stay for two to three days and dry out the atmosphere so there is less afternoon rain typical of Florida summers.
A plus: sunlight reflecting off those dust particles makes for more vibrant sunrises and sunsets.
“Overall, it makes the sunrises and sunsets more vibrant and beautiful,” Hadi said.
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