Friday, February 4, 2011

2011 Florida Severe Weather Awareness Week-- Wildfires

Florida’s Severe Weather Awareness Week takes place from January 31 – February 4, 2011. Severe Weather Awareness Week is an opportunity for Floridians to learn about the various weather hazards that frequently impact the state and how families and businesses can prepare for these natural events.

Each day focuses on a specific weather event. Friday’s topic is temperature extremes and wildfires.

Though Florida is known as the Sunshine State, it could also qualify as the “Hot State.” Each summer, numerous tourists come from all over the world to enjoy the warm weather and sunny beaches, but most are unaware of just how hot it can get in Florida.

Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the state is always influenced by tropical moisture, especially in the summer. When hot temperatures combine with high humidity, our bodies feel like it is hotter than it really is since the increased moisture in the air limits our body’s ability to cool off through sweating. This is called the Heat Index. When the heat index reaches higher than 105 degrees F, conditions can become dangerous for both people and animals. A person can experience heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke that may result in death if exposed to these conditions for a long period of time. When the combination of heat and humidity causes the heat index to reach dangerous levels, the National Weather service will issue Heat Advisories and Warnings.

DID YOU KNOW??? The hottest temperature ever recorded in Florida was 109 degrees Fahrenheit on June 29, 1931, in Monticello. Also, in 2010, a heat index of 124 degrees was observed at the Apalachicola Airport.

To help protect yourself against the hot summer heat, make sure to wear lightweight and light-colored clothing. Try to avoid doing or scheduling outdoor events during the hottest parts of the day (usually 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.). Drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic beverages. Check on the elderly, young children and animals during periods of prolonged heat. Apply sunscreen before exposure to the sun.

Though many people head south to escape the cold temperatures in the winter, it isn’t always warmer in Florida. There have been numerous severe cold outbreaks that have affected the state with below freezing temperatures and strong winds that produce bitterly cold wind chills. Strong winds can also make the air “feel” colder than it really is by removing the heat from our skin that our bodies generate. This is called the Wind Chill. Like high heat, very cold temperatures can also endanger humans. The National Weather Service will issue Wind Chill Advisories/ Watches/Warnings, Freeze Watches/ Warnings, hard freeze watches/warnings, and Frost Advisories if cold weather will threaten an area.

DID YOU KNOW??? The coldest temperature recorded in Florida was minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Tallahassee on February 13, 1899.

Floridians should remember the "Five P's" of cold weather safety. The “5 P’s” are: Protecting People, Protecting Plants, Protecting Pets, Protect Exposed Pipes, and Practice Fire Safety.

To prepare yourself from the bitter cold, stay indoors and use a safe heating source. Make sure to use space heaters according to their instructions, and be attentive to open flames. Do not use charcoal or other fuel-burning devices, such as grills that produce carbon monoxide. When outdoors, stay dry and in wind protected areas and wear multiple layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing.

Also, be aware of sensitive plants and animals. Bring in potted plants and drape a blanket, sheet or tarp over plants in the ground. Pets are just as susceptible to the cold as people are. Bring all domesticated pets indoors or at least provide shelter for animals with a closed door to keep out the wind. Make sure the shelter is clean, dry, and well insulated with straw, wood shavings or a blanket. Pet stores sell heated bowls to resist water freezing. Be sure to have extra food as outdoor animals require more calories in the winter to generate energy to ward off the cold. Horses and other livestock need a windbreak, cover, warm bedding, abundant high-quality feed, and fresh water, too.

Not only should practicing fire safety be considered when trying to heat your home during the winter, but residents and visitors should practice fire safety year round since wildfire season in Florida is considered to be 12 months long. While wildfires can start at any time of the year, the state sees a peak of activity during the early part of the year – beginning in January and continuing until the onset of more frequent rain during the wet season, usually in early to mid-June. Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings are issued by the National Weather Service to alert people and land managers to potentially hazardous burning conditions that may add to wildfire danger and lead to the loss of control of a fire.

DID YOU KNOW??? A typical year in Florida will see over 4,600 fires burn nearly 110,000 acres of land. While lightning is responsible for many fires, most wildfires are started by humans – the most common causes of human-started fires are arson and escaped burns of debris.

In 2010, Florida saw over 2,500 wildfires burn nearly 28,000 acres through the end of November. This is a particularly low amount of wildfire activity compared to the past 30 years. Part of this reason is an El Niño event that was occurring during the early part of 2010. An El Niño event occurs when there is warmer than normal water in the Central and Eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

Winter El Niño events are frequently associated with cooler and wetter conditions in Florida, which helps to suppress wildfire activity. In contrast to El Niño events, there are also events known as La Niña, in which the water in the same region of the tropical Pacific is abnormally cool. La Niña events are generally associated with warmer and drier winters in Florida.

DID YOU KNOW??? An increased amount of wildfire activity is often the result of La Niña events. In fact, Florida’s most severe bouts with wildfires occurred during La Niña events or during a quick transition to La Niña.

To help control the spread of wildfires, residents across Florida are urged to be “Firewise”. The Firewise program is designed to help homeowners reduce the threat of wildfire around their homes. Homeowners can make their yards fire resistant by planting specific types of vegetation and landscaping in a way that fire will not threaten their homes. Information and tips on this program can be found at

More information on temperature hazards and wildfires and what you can do to protect yourself and others can be found at, and

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