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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

How hot was October? These Tampa-area cities ranked within the top 10 for record-setting heat

Map of Florida with red and yellow flags over cities highlighting the ranking of this year's October heat.
For 2021, Tampa had the third hottest October on record, tied with the year 1919. Lakeland had its sixth warmest, Plant City: fourth, Bradenton: seventh, and Sarasota: fifth.

Florida's days and nights are warming up pretty much every month, but the fall and late winter months are warming faster than others.

Some cities within the greater Tampa Bay region experienced a hot October, ranking in the top 10 this past month, as part of a statewide trend.

For 2021, Tampa had the third hottest October on record at 80.4 degrees Fahrenheit, tied with the year 1919. The hottest was in 2020 at 81.5, with 2019 right behind it at 81.1.

Chart showing the top 30 hot Octobers in Tampa over the years.
The last four years in Tampa made it to the top of the hot Octobers chart from a data set going back to 1890.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lakeland had its sixth warmest October last month. Plant City had its fourth, Bradenton its seventh, and Sarasota its fifth.

Sean Sublette, a meteorologist with the nonprofit science and communications organization Climate Central based in New Jersey, said this kind of information is vital.

"It's important for agricultural purposes. It's important for people living in cities and how the infrastructure is going to respond to increased heat, how people living in an increasingly hot environment are going to deal with the heat, and increasing cooling demand for a growing population in Florida," Sublette said.

Florida's days and nights are warming up pretty much every month, according to Sublette, but some months are warming faster than others — mostly in the fall and late winter.

“February's warming fast, but it's mostly October, November, December,” he said, adding an educated guess that the Gulf of Mexico is contributing by staying warmer as well. “[Oceans] hold on to heat longer into the fall and winter, and they're probably playing a role in the Florida climate in the fall."

Summers are phenomenally hot in Florida, so once you get into October, that's when you're hoping to start to see some cool-downs. Sublette said one of the broader signals of climate change happens when traditional summertime temperatures are expanding in time.

“Otherwise, they're showing up earlier in the year, and they're lasting later into the year away from just the hottest part of summer,” he said. “So, in October, that's when we really are hoping things are going to start to cool down, and it's just taking a little bit longer for that to happen … a few more weeks than it has in the past.”

As we approach the end of 2021, Florida is on the verge of experiencing its fifth warmest year on record. Between January and October of this year, the state has experienced an average temperature of 77.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

The steady rise in temperature can cause water bodies to expand, so Sublette said he thinks sea level rise will be the biggest financial cost to Florida in the decades to come.

"Especially considering how a lot of Florida is on porous limestone," he said. "The Everglades are very low. And … in time, they're probably going to be given back to the ocean south of Lake Okeechobee."

But Sublette considers that a long-term threat. The final temperature data for 2021 is expected to come out in January.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.