Florida’s official nickname is the ‘Sunshine State’, and for good reason – it has the sunniest winter climate in the eastern United States and the highest average January temperature in the nation. Surrounded by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean the climate ranges from temperate in the north to tropical in the south.
Winters – December to March – are mild and dry. In north Florida winter consists of cool nights and sunny days. Daytime temperatures are 10-15 C (50-60 F). Every few weeks a cold front sweeps in from the northwest bringing with it a few days of cold cloudy weather, a brief rainy spell, followed by bright clear skies and colder temperatures. North Florida’s famous freezes, when oranges are photographed covered with ice, usually arrive after a front has moved through. South Florida is sub-tropical, with daytime winter temperatures of 15-24 C (60-75F)
Summers – June to September – are hot and humid. Guide books will tell you that the average annual summer temperature is 26.9 C (80.5 F) in North Florida, but don’t be fooled. This average includes the high and low temperatures for the 24-hour period. In June, July and August, daytime temperatures across the state typically hover around 32 C, and the humidity is high. Coastal breezes provide some relief from the humidity.
Summer is also Florida’s wet season: about 135 cm (53 inches) of rain falls in Florida each year, most of it between June and September. In addition to being one of the sunniest states, Florida is also one of the wettest, second only to Louisiana.
Most of the rain comes in the form of summer thunderstorms, and on most summer days there is a 40-50% chance of rain. White puffy clouds build to thunderheads during the day and by the afternoon you can usually hear thunder rumbling somewhere nearby. Florida rain is usually localized and intense, but mercifully brief. Storms can drop 10 cms of rain in one place leaving an area a few miles away bone dry.
Besides being the Sunshine State, Florida is also known as the ‘lightning capital of the world’. Meteorologists estimate that each square kilometer of land in Central Florida gets about 104 lightning strikes a year. This is three times the national average.
Lightning kills about ten people per year in Florida and damages millions of dollars worth of telephones, transformers and electronic equipment. Nearly a third of the lightning victims are killed while in open fields, golf courses or ballparks. A quarter of the deaths occur while people are boating, fishing or swimming.
Hurricane season begins in June and extends through November. The peak hurricane months are September and October when ocean temps are the warmest. Though the past few years have seen several hurricanes strike Florida, historical records show that the state is no more vulnerable to hurricanes than the entire Atlantic coast of the US as far north as Boston. In spite of the great damage they can cause, much of South Florida’s plant diversity is thought to be due to hurricanes – they are believed to have blown many of Florida’s tropical plants over from the West Indies.
The best time to visit Florida depends on your interests and tolerance for heat, humidity and insects. Reptiles and amphibians are easiest to see in the summer months. However, alligators can usually be seen year round. If birding is high on your list, late September and early October is ideal for fall migrants; January and February are excellent for wintering birds, and spring migration peaks in mid-April to mid-May. Winter is a good time to see colonial wading birds nesting in south Florida, and cold weather attracts manatees to central Florida’s freshwater springs.