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Southeast soaker could spark severe weather in Florida before Christmas

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather.com
Southeast soaker could spark severe weather in Florida before Christmas

Significant rainfall is on the way for the southeastern United States, which is welcome news for a region that has been in the midst of abnormally dry or even drought conditions in recent weeks. However, AccuWeather forecasters warn that as a storm tracks through, it could also trigger severe weather in Florida.

Soil and brush conditions have varied substantially over the Southeastern states this autumn. Some areas are near to slightly above average, such as much of Florida, while other areas over the interior Southeast have been significantly drier in recent months.

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Locations from northern and western Georgia to much of the Carolinas and southern Virginia are in the greatest need of rain with conditions ranging from abnormally dry to severe drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor. About 42 of North Carolina and 23 of South Carolina are considered to be in severe drought. Asheville, North Caolina, has received only about 22 of its normal rainfall since Nov. 1. with about 1.4 inches compared with a normal of about 6 inches for the six-week period.

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But, even in parts of Florida, there has been little to no rain during the first half of December. Tampa has picked up only 0.02 of an inch of rain since Dec. 1, while normal rainfall for all of the month there is 2.56 inches. A soaking rain or a few downpours might not be a terrible thing but could bring disruptions and an inconvenience to those spending time outdoors and visiting beaches and theme parks in the days ahead of Christmas.

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The late fall, winter and early spring months are typically the dry time of the year in Florida. For example, rainfall generally averages 1-3 inches per month in Orlando from November through March.

United States Drought Monitor.

The exact track and speed at which the upcoming storm gains strength will determine the intensity and coverage of rainfall and the scope and intensity of thunderstorms in the system's warm sector.

There is little doubt that a portion of the Southeastern states will get a thorough soaking from the storm from Monday to Tuesday, but there is some question as to how extensive the shield of rain will be, AccuWeather Meteorologist Tony Zartman said.

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At this time, it appears that areas from northern and central Florida, southeastern Alabama, central and southern Georgia, the low country and midlands of South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina are in the running for a general 0.50 of an inch to 1 inch of rain with locally higher amounts spanning Monday night to Tuesday night. People commuting to work or traveling through this zone should expect delays, forecasters say.

"There is a chance that soaking rain and wet travel conditions reach farther to the northwest with the storm from portions of central Alabama and northern Georgia to central North Carolina and southeastern Virginia," Zartman said.

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During late November, a fire broke out in the Pilot Mountain State Park, North Carolina area. The fire, which is believed to have originated from a campfire, went on to burn 1,100 acres before being contained in early December. Soil conditions remain dry in this region and much of the southern Appalachians and foothills with dry brush and freshly fallen leaves serving as potential fuel.

The front was located over the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday afternoon producing only spotty, sporadic rainfall in the Southeastern region right along the Gulf Coast.

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Even a light amount of rain can go a long way this time of the year as evaporation rates are lower compared to the summer months.

Recent record-challenging warmth and frequent above-average temperatures have caused evaporation rates to be considerably higher than normal. Temperatures during the first half of December have averaged 4-8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Average highs are in the middle 50s for much of the region in early to mid-December, but there have been many days with highs well into the 60s and 70s.

The stronger the storm becomes and the speed at which it strengthens will have an impact on how far north and west the rain would reach, Zartman explained.

Should the storm remain weak until it pushes off the Georgia and Florida coasts, rain may struggle to reach the Interstate 85 corridor and may only congregate around interstates 10 and 95. However, should the storm ramp up quickly, it would have a better chance at soaking areas as far to the north and west as the southern Appalachians.

Even with a moderate storm system, enough warmth, moisture and jet stream energy are likely to be available to produce heavy, gusty thunderstorms that are expected to become severe for some in central and southern Florida from Monday night to Tuesday.

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Should the storm strengthen quickly, a severe weather outbreak could even evolve that includes some supercell thunderstorms capable of producing a few tornadoes over the Florida Peninsula.

Even if in lieu of severe thunderstorms, brief downpours may extend as far south as the Miami area and the Florida Keys during Tuesday afternoon and evening. People with boating, fishing or beach activities scheduled for this week may want to plan accordingly as there is the threat for water spouts with any robust storm over the water.

While the Southeastern states have been quiet in terms of severe weather this month, it has been a deadly and destructive December for parts of the Central states with two major outbreaks of severe weather within a week. A far-reaching high wind event that included multiple tornadoes struck portions of the central Plains on Wednesday, less than a week after a swarm of strong tornadoes struck the middle Mississippi and lower Ohio valleys.

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