Florida is no stranger to strong afternoon thunderstorms in July, but they’re likely to be more widespread than usual Monday afternoon and evening.
The greatest risk for widespread thunderstorms is over west-central Florida, centered on the Tampa/St. Pete metropolitan area. However, these strong storms may also occur as far south as the Fort Myers area and as far north and east as the Orlando, Gainesville, and Jacksonville areas. Scattered thunderstorms are likely over the Big Bend and Panhandle areas, but widespread severe weather is somewhat more unlikely in those areas.
A combination of several factors are contributing to the strong thunderstorm potential: an upper-level trough near the Atlantic coast is forecast to move westward over the state and a moist southeasterly wind pattern will tend to focus the sea breeze storms over the western half of the peninsula. Cool air high in the atmosphere from the trough will move over top of the typically warm, humid, and unstable air mass over the state, which will contribute to the risk for hail and damaging gusts from the strongest storm clusters.
Areawide rainfall is expected to average around an inch, focused on the western half of the peninsula, but more localized torrential rain is highly probable. Rainfall over the past month is running twice to nearly three times the average from Interstate 4 northward into the Ocala, Gainesville, and Lake City areas. As little as 2 to 3 inches of rain in one hour may trigger flash flooding from Lee county northward to Tampa and toward Gainesville. These communities received heavy rain from Tropical Storm Elsa last week. Frequent lightning, as always, poses a concern. Lightning can strike in areas where it is not raining, which may cause those outside off guard.
The first storms are likely to develop along or west of Interstate 95 on the east coast around or shortly before noon. They will reach the Fort Myers and Naples area early Monday afternoon. The Orlando area is on track to see the strongest storms during the early and mid afternoon hours of Monday, spreading to the Tampa and St. Pete areas mostly after 3 o’clock before moving into the Gulf around sunset. A similar pattern is likely over the northern peninsula: storms in the Jacksonville to Daytona areas in the early afternoon will reach Interstate 75 during the mid to late afternoon and finally to the Nature Coast by early evening.
Heavy rain and flash flooding may result from storms in the Big Bend and Panhandle, too. The storms along the sea breeze should develop around 1 o’clock and spread northward to the Georgia and Alabama state lines shortly before 4 o’clock. Conditions have been wetter than normal over most of the spring, especially over the western Panhandle, and from Tropical Storm Claudette in June.
A similar pattern is on tap for Tuesday. The greatest concentration of thunderstorms is likely over the interior of the Florida Peninsula during the early afternoon and then favoring the west coast later in the afternoon and early evening hours. There are signs some drier air from the east may limit the number of storms Thursday or Friday.