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NOAA satellite image of Florida firesFebruary 1, 2001 — Florida is suffering through one of the worst droughts in the state's history and the seasonal outlook, provided by NOAA's National Weather Service, holds little hope of immediate relief. Severe drought conditions are likely to persist well into the south central portion of the state—increasing the danger of wildfires across most of central Florida. (Click image for larger view. NOAA satellite image of Florida fires taken Jan. 25, 2001.)

Since the first of the year, more than 800 Florida wildfires have burned more than 23,000 acres. Most of the fires were quickly contained, but the battle continues against a major blaze that has burned 3,600 acres along the Lake-Polk County line near Orlando. Over 75 percent contained, the fires remain a threat to 900 residences. Drifting smoke has also created a hazard for motorists driving along portions of Interstate Highway 4 and U.S. Highway 27.

A Florida Forestry Division Incident Management Team is on the scene along with 80 firefighters, 15 engines and related firefighting equipment. National Guard helicopters have also been assisting with fire suppression efforts.

"The governor declared the continuing wildfire hazard a major disaster threat to the state of Florida," said Bill Proenza, National Weather Service Southern Region director. The service's Regional Operations Center is monitoring the situation daily and providing priority assistance to Florida's fire control efforts. "We have our meteorologists providing around-the-clock special forecasts for the state's fire control teams. In addition, incident meteorologists, specially trained to provide critical, on-site wildfire weather forecasting, are ready to go to the fire sites at a moment's notice," he added.

A cold front pushing into the Gulf of Mexico brought rain to portions of Florida this week, but it has had little effect on the state's moisture-starved northern and central counties. One of the hardest hit regions is the Tampa Bay area where a total of 64.17 inches of rainfall was recorded (at Tampa International Airport) for the two-year period
1999-2000. That represents a deficit of 23.17 inches—making 1999-2000 the driest back-to-back calendar years on record. Orlando experienced a rainfall deficit of 11.04 inches during the same period.

According to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., 2000 was Florida's driest year on record. The Palmer Drought Index indicates that the current Florida drought, which dates back to April 1998, is the worst since the 1930s. Abnormally dry to severe drought conditions also exist throughout Georgia and central and eastern Alabama, as well as portions of southern and west Texas and southeast New Mexico. While the seasonal outlook anticipates near normal rainfall in these regions through April, severe drought conditions are not expected to be alleviated in Florida.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Drought Information Center

NOAA's Fire Weather Information Center

NOAA Satellite Images of Fires in U.S. Southeast

West Central Florida Fire Weather Forecast

USA Fire Weather 30-90 Outlook

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center Fire Weather Outlook

NOAA's Weather Page

Media Contacts:
Ron Trumbla, NOAA's National Weather Service Southern Region, (817) 978-1111 ext. 140 or John Leslie, NOAA's National Weather Service headquarters, (301) 713-0622