Florida is known for its warm and pleasant weather, which is why it is one of the top tourist destinations in North America and has the nickname "The Sunshine State." Florida has mild winters, causing many residents of the cold Northeast and Midwest (as well as many international travelers) to spend their winters or retire there.
The average temperature in the state during the winter months is in the low to mid 60's (near 20C), occasionally getting up into the high 70's (near 25C), although frost is not uncommon (especially in January and February), so a light jumper/sweater is often needed even during the day, and a fleece or lined windbreaker a must at night. Florida has early and warm springs and long autumns sometimes lasting well into December, with sapphire-blue skies, low humidity, and only very occasional showers. Highs in the spring and autumn hover in the low 80s (20-22C). Summers are long, hot, and humid, (70% or more) with temperatures in the state averaging in the high 80's to mid 90's(30-35C) during June, July, and August.
Rainfall, especially thunderstorms, is also common in Florida. In fact, the state has the highest number of thunderstorms in the U.S. Average rainfall for most of the state is between 50 and 60 inches (125-150 cm). Because it is in a subtropical climate zone, there is a wet season starting in late spring (usually May-June) and lasting until early November. Between early November and late May, showers are few and far between, only arriving to herald a cold front in the winter months. Late springs can occasionally bring wildfires to rural areas, but these only rarely threaten populated areas.
Summers are wet and humid -- but there's an upside. The mornings are quite bearable, with the heat of the day being the worst between early and mid-afternoon. It will then begin to cloud over, with ominously dark and heavy thunderclouds towering where the ever-present sea breeze meets the evaporation over the inland part of the state. Just when the day is getting too hot to stand, there is an almost daily thundershower with lots of lightning and rumbling thunder -- it will rain as much as 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) in an hour or two, but will clear off -- and the puddles will drain away -- to leave a very pleasant evening with stellar sunsets and starlit nights. (Florida is the lightning capital of the United States, so those who like to watch thunderstorms -- from a safe indoor venue, please -- will not be disappointed.)
The sun is far more intense in Florida than in more northern climes -- so please take precautions against sunburn. Plan to wear at least a 25-30 SPF, and don't forget a hat and sunglasses. Cover up before you start to look red -- at that point the damage is done, and you'll be living with a painful crimson burn. (There are plenty of aloe lotions available in every retail outlet to help ease the pain if you cross that line!) Remember to drink lots and lots of fluids, too -- keeping in mind that caffeine and alcohol compound dehydration -- heat-related injuries (dehydration, heat exhaustion) can ruin a day or two of your hard-earned vacation at best, and can require a trip to hospital at worst. Invest a little time and common sense, and your payoff will be feeling ready to enjoy every minute of your visit!
Visitors come to Florida all year 'round for its popular family resorts and beaches. The winter and spring may be the most popular time for people to visit, but great deals on airfare and hotels can be had during the summer months when tourism numbers are down.
Hurricane season officially runs from 1 June to 30 November -- with the peak activity coming in August and early September. You can keep an eye on the tropical happenings at NOAA National Hurricane Center -- the government gives updates every six hours (11 am, 5 pm, 11 pm, and 5 am) during the season, with an intermediate advisory at 2 pm, 8 pm, 2 am, and 8 am when there is an active storm. The site is also a treasure trove of information about these fascinating weather phenomena, as well as the best way to prepare for the landfall of a storm.
The NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration -- the U.S. government weather agency) site, officially dubbed the NHC, or National Hurricane Center, is more reliable and far more preferable to the commercial weather sites, as their job is to report the position and intensity of the storm, and forecast its future movements and growth (or dissipation, as the case may be). Commercial weather sites are frequently driven by profit motivations to highlight the more frightening aspects of a storm.
Florida doesn't get a direct hit every year -- and not every storm is a Category 5 storm of the century. The state has borne strikes from small tropical storms that bring nothing but torrential rain, to the horrors of Andrew (1992) and the fearsome foursome of Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne (2004). Don't panic just because you see a storm forming -- keep an eye on the updates, and contact your travel providers (hotels, car agencies, theme parks, airlines, cruise lines, etc., etc., etc.) by phone, fax, or email -- check their websites to find their policies about hurricanes, and ask them under what circumstances those policies are enacted. (Disney, for example, requires a hurricane warning to be posted before replacing tickets.)
If you are unfortunate enough to be here when a hurricane is imminent -- don't panic. Contact your travel providers to see about leaving the area or the state -- keep in mind that full-time residents are likely under mandatory evacuations, so travel will be more stressful than usual, and you will need to stay patient and considerate.
Do not decide to ride out a hurricane, or drive into an area that is under evacuation to experience the thrill -- a hurricane is an awesome force, and you need to keep the area clear so that residents and local authorities are able to do what they need to do to secure their homes and communities.
Above all, welcome to Florida -- The folks who live here, live here because the people who live here like the weather, too -- it's a fabulous place more than 95% of the time, and the people who live here and write these articles are glad you want to visit.