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Talking About the Weather

June 6, 2012

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Probably the biggest single reason people visit or move to South Florida is the weather, which is pretty fabulous for half of the year.  Then comes summer, which brings the three H’s:  heat, humidity, and hurricanes.  The conventional wisdom is that South Florida is all but uninhabitable in the summer months, which is why them what can shutter up their homes and flee to cooler and drier climes.

Me, I beg to differ.  I actually like the summer here.  Let me explain:

First of all, yes it’s hot, but compared to what?  I spent the last four decades in Washington, DC where the summer humidity is just as bad or worse and the temperatures are even hotter.  There we often had long spells of stifling muggy heat when temperatures stayed in the upper 90s, the sky turned a nasty hazy gray, and the humidity made your clothes feel like little needles were pricking your skin. Last summer I witnessed a near-riot at DCA when the temperature was 105 and the airlines were bumping passengers because the planes couldn’t take off with a full load.  Or I recall my Texas boyhood days when the thermometer regularly topped 100 degrees for weeks on end.

So this really doesn’t seem that bad.  The temperature rarely gets above the low 90s, and the average high in Miami from June through September is right at 90 degrees. The last time it hit 100 degrees in Miami (the all-time record) was in 1940.  Yes, it’s humid and the sun can be brutally strong.  Walk a block in the noonday sun and you’ll be schwitzing for sure.  But there’s usually a nice breeze, and once you’re in shade it’s okay.  And I’m not wearing a coat and tie—though I feel for the few poor schmucks who are (unless they’re lawyers riding in their air conditioned BMWs).

Besides, the nights feel sexy and sensuous.  If you go the beach, the ocean temperature is heavenly.  Even in the height of the summer the water at Rehoboth or Fire Island is cooler than it is here in January—never mind Maine where even Canadians avoid the water in August.

And it’s easier to find a parking place.

In weatherspeak, South Florida has a “tropical monsoon climate.”  Because the temperature throughout the year fluctuates within a relatively narrow band, the controlling variable is humidity and its handmaiden, rainfall.  The rainy season usually starts in late May, peaks in June and again in September before tapering off in October.  Rainfall drops off dramatically in the winter months, bottoming out in January with an average 1.6 inches for the month.  Those gorgeous mild sunny winter days are the real basis for the area’s economy.

Before moving to Florida, I had never seen TV weathercasts show graphics displaying atmospheric water vapor.  The TV weathermen and their incredibly voluptuous female colleagues use technical terms like “juicy” to describe conditions likely to produce rain.  But apparently it’s quite difficult to predict when, where, and how much it will rain in any given location because showers tend to be of the pop-up variety rather than the widespread blankets or fronts of precipitation typical of other parts of the country.  It can be pouring buckets in one location, while a couple of miles away there’s not a drop.  As a result, South Florida weather forecasts are usually too vague to be very useful in telling you whether to take your umbrella or not.  You’d do about as well just looking at the sky.

If you have more than a passing interest in Florida weather, I highly recommend a blog called Go Hydrology, produced by Robert V. Sobczak, a hydrologist for the National Park Service at the Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades. It does a great job of explaining what’s happening as the seasons change as well as making clear why we who live in the Miami-Broward megalopolis need to care about what happens to that big swamp just west of us.

Then there’s the hurricane thing—the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  Before moving here, I had only a passing interest in Atlantic tropical cyclones unless one came barreling up the Chesapeake Bay like Isabel in 2003 and knocked out my electricity for a week.  Now that I’m here, I compulsively go to the National Hurricane Center website during the hurricane season between June and November to see if anything is brewing out there. I guess veteran Floridians are more blasé about all this, but I haven’t been through a major hurricane since Carla in 1961 and am not eager to do it again.

South Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since 2005, so it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’re living on borrowed time.  This area has seen the horrific destruction that a monster hurricane can wreak.  The great Miami hurricane of 1926 produced a storm surge of more than 11 feet and virtually wiped Miami Beach into Biscayne Bay.  People in southern Miami-Dade who lived through Andrew in 1992 will never forget what they experienced.  Statistically, the greatest risk occurs in September and October.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the tropical languor while the rain takes care of watering my yard and the sun heats my pool for free.  I think I’ll have another gin-and-tonic before I go out to check if more mangos have dropped from the tree.  Isn’t summer awful?

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