Wildfire threat grows as Florida drought gets steadily worse
The threat of wildfires is growing in Florida over the coming weeks as more than half the state is experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions likely to persist until rainy season resumes around mid-May, state and federal officials said Thursday.
The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center reported Thursday that 55% of Florida is in the severe to extreme drought category, with most of the rest of the state listed as "abnormally dry." The driest conditions are in southwest Florida, the same region hammered by Hurricane Ian in September.
"When you look at a drought map of the state of Florida, you have very dry conditions all across the state," said Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, whose agency includes the Florida Forest Service. "We've had numerous fires already."
Indeed, since Jan. 1 more than 1,000 wildfires in Florida have burned over 33,000 acres (13,300 hectares), according to state statistics. No evacuations, injuries or major damage to structures have been reported from the fires so far, but that could quickly change as April temperatures heat up without the frequent rainstorms that occur in summer.
Rainfall totals so far this year are well below normal in most of Florida, agriculture department figures show. And as climate change overall raises temperatures around the world, in Florida for February alone 82% of counties were hotter than the typical levels in the 20th Century — affecting an estimated 19.5 million people.