This weekend, the weather is expected to make a shift.
The National Weather Service calls for a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m. Friday and a high of near 78 degrees. The chance of precipitation increases to 90 percent overnight, and Saturday morning could bring more rain.
Saturday is expected to be much cooler with a high of 66, according to the Weather Service.
It could be even cooler Sunday, even though the forecast indicates it should be sunny, as the high is expected to be near 60 and a low that night of 43.
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Temperatures aren’t expected to exceed 66 degrees through Wednesday, according to the Weather Service.
As the climate shifts into a La Nina stage for winter months, that usually means more dry and warm weather, said meteorologist Dustin Norman with the National Weather Service.
Patrick Mahoney, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Forest Service’s Myakka River District, said he’s not sure how much rain the cold front will bring but noted that high winds and low temperatures without much humidity can dry things out quickly.
As wildfires tear through southern California and with cooler weather on the way, it’s a solemn reminder that an active season for wildfire in Florida is also near.
Manatee County is already showing cause for concern, officials say.
As of Wednesday, the Keetch Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which estimates the dryness of soil and duff layers, value for Manatee County was 519, with more than 60 percent of the county in the 501 to 600 range, according to the Florida Forest Service.
On Dec. 6, 2016, Manatee County was a 496 on the index, a 289 in 2015, and 208 in 2014, Florida Forest Service archives show.
“It just concerns me that Manatee County is so dry already,” Mahoney said. “As (the drought index) starts to creep higher, we’re going to put more restrictions on burning.”
Sarasota County measured a 404 on the KBDI Wednesday, with 48 percent of the county in the 401 to 500 range.
With a wet rainy season, thanks in part to an active hurricane season, the potential for wildfires in much of the state will be “close to normal” through December, according to a Sept. 28 Fire Weather Outlook from the Florida Forest Service. However, it adds, the fall season is not typically an active time for wildfires.
“We had a lot of water on the ground so we were good through the summer,” Mahoney said.
South Florida recorded above average precipitation in November, according to the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook issued Dec. 1.
As wildfires rage in California, growing to 140 square miles, Mahoney said the likelihood of something similar happening here is “very slim.”
But now is the time to prepare for active season and prevent forest fires.
Mahoney said homeowners can prepare their yards and homes by clearing any dead foliage and cleaning out gutters. And if you see anything suspicious, he said, call and report it.
This week, the Florida Forest Service Fire Prevention Teams attended their annual meeting at Welaka State Forest where went through four days of training, Mahoney said.
As of Wednesday, the observed fire danger indicies for Manatee and Sarasota counties were low. Pinellas and Charlotte counties were the only ones listed with anything higher, both at a moderate level, according to the Forest Service.
The entire state showed a low level for forecast fire danger indices.
Nonetheless, Mahoney said they are preparing for an early start to active season. Florida has a 12-month growth cycle, so it also has a 12-month fire season.
The active season usually starts in February, but Mahoney thinks it could be kick off as early as January because it became so dry so early.
“We spent the wet time making sure all the equipment was ready to go, so we’re ready for it,” Mahoney said. “I believe it’s probably going to be kind of like last year.”
In 2017, there have been 2,845 wildfires in Florida that burned more than 200,000 acres of land. In the Myakka River District, which services Manatee, Sarasota and three other counties, there were just under 10,000 acres burned in 159 fires, Mahoney said.
“It was a lot more active last year than it’s been in the last several years,” Mahoney said.
But any lingering dead limbs or foliage from Hurricane Irma could become fuel for potential fires and was listed as a concern for Florida in the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook, which Norman also pointed to as a contributor to fire growth.
It was noted in the fire weather outlook that on June 30, Florida was drought free for the first time since July 2016.
Florida Forest Service will publish an updated seasonal outlook in the first week of January.