In Florida, 51 percent of the state was in severe to extreme drought by the end of 2010. Some areas experienced the driest July 1 — Dec. 31 period on record. For example, Gainesville received only 12.95 inches of precipitation, compared to the previous record low of 15.25 inches. The city normally receives 27 inches. Daytona Beach ended the period with 14.71 inches compared to the previous record low of 15.35 inches — its normal is 30 inches.

In central and southern Florida, the South Florida Water Management District rain gauge network recorded an average of only 2.97 inches during the October through December period, breaking the previous record low average of 4.07 inches. Moreover, the District reports that Florida’s Lake Okeechobee ended the year at 12.4 feet, 2.3 feet below average.

In addition to agricultural and water conservation concerns, one of the major threats from the drought is the growing wildfire danger. More than 42,000 fires accounted for more than 775,000 acres burned throughout the affected southern tier states during 2010. 

Texas and Florida were among the hardest hit states. In Texas, the severe wildfire threat prompted Governor Rick Perry to issue a disaster proclamation for 244 of the state’s 254 counties. Meanwhile, Florida lost more than 400,000 acres to wildfires last year, with more predicted to come. Florida’s Forestry Division notes La Niña is expected to continue at least through spring and again anticipates greater than normal wildfire activity in 2011.

Getting the word out regarding likely La Niña impacts is imperative. "By providing information on current and future climate conditions to the public and to other federal, state and local decision makers, the National Weather Service can help them prepare for and react to such extreme weather events and to climate variability,” said David Brown, regional climate services director for NOAA’s National Weather Service southern region.

La Niña has developed 13 times since 1950, and the current La Niña ranks as the sixth strongest. The question climate experts are asking now is whether it will fade with the approach of summer or continue into next year.

“Of the five stronger La Niñas that occurred, four resulted in multi-year events,” said Victor Murphy, climate program manager for NOAA’s National Weather Service southern region. “If this La Niña persists until next winter, the threat of drought conditions in the south extending into next year will be heightened.”

NOAA’s polar satellites are key to measuring, tracking, and forecasting drought conditions because they provide consistent observations of the globe not possible with only land-based instruments. Data from the NOAA’s Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites, or POES, supports a broad range of environmental monitoring applications including weather analysis and forecasting, climate research and prediction, global sea surface temperature measurements, forest fire detection, global vegetation analysis, search and rescue, and many other applications. For more on satellites and drought monitoring, see

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