What I did on my holidays in 1997

In September 1997 I went to Orlando, Florida for 3 weeks, which was very nice. I had the good fortune to do all the touristy things, you know like shake hands with Mickey Mouse, get splashed by that big Killer Whale at Sea World, get free samples of beer at Busch Gardens near Tampa Bay, have a nose around the space centre at Cape Canaveral, have a go on one of those hoverboat things with the big fans behind them like in the Bond film Live and Let Die, go shopping at one of those discount mall things where clothes are half the price that they are in Europe and eat in some tacky fast food places. I also got to drink a beer called Wanker, which coming from England (where this word is a word children shouldn't be using!) amused me tremendously ("Give me 6 wankers my good man")!!

Most of the time the weather was very nice - broken clouds, plenty of sunshine and temperatures in low 30's Celsius. By night it was a bit sticky with lows in the lows 20's Celsius, but as I was staying in an air-conditioned hotel this didn't bother me in the slightest. It didn't rain much; in fact weather observations for Orlando taken from the National Weather Service in Melbourne, eastern Florida show that whilst I was in Florida (between the 6th and 27th September) it only rained on 9 days and even when it did rain it wasn't for very long. In fact, only my last full day (the 26th) was badly affected by weather - there were some thunderstorms in the morning, followed by some heavy rain in the late afternoon and evening.

On the day before (the 25th) there were also some thunderstorms, this time in the evening. What made these thunderstorms more interesting than usual was that whilst they were going on NASA were launching the space shuttle. At the time I was quite surprised that NASA were lauching the shuttle whilst thunderstorms were going on in the area. However, as we drove to the launch site to watch the evening launch I was quite pleased it went ahead. When you go to a shuttle launch you can't get much closer than within a few miles of the launch site, but even so it's a tremendously impressive site, especially if it's dark when the flame at the back of the shuttle lights up the whole area so brightly that for a few seconds it's like daylight! Anyway, you can find out more about the shuttle launch I saw by visiting the Shuttle Mission Archive and you can see the weather forecast for the shuttle launch here.

Florida is the most thunderstorm and lightning prone area of the USA and most places have on average between 70 and 85 days with thunder per year. Needless to say lightning is a bit of a problem for NASA and launches have been affected by thunderstorms on several occasions. Obviously there was 25th September 1997 which I saw, but the launch of the space shuttle onn 30th August 1983 also went ahead during thunderstorms. Apollo 12 was struck by lightning shortly after take off on 14th November 1969 but minimal damage was sustained and the mission continued. However, an umanned rocket had to be destroyed shortly after take off under similar circumstances on 26th March 1987. Needless to say NASA has some of the world's most sophisticated lightning detectors at Cape Canaveral.

Now, is this sort of weather normal for Florida in September? Well, the usual pattern of weather in Florida between June and September is for days to begin reasonably sunny but for clouds to build up (due to daytime heating) later in the morning leaving a mixture of cloud and sunny spells for the afternoon, which is indeed what I had. These clouds often build up sufficiently to cause showers or thunderstorms and whilst these showers and storms can be torrential they don't usually last that long so won't spoil your day! These showers are most likely July and August when they can be expected on at least every other day and probably two days in three. These showers are slightly less likely in June and September but can still be expected every other day. So regular are these showers that 60% of the rain that falls in Orlando between June and September falls between 2pm and 7pm! Now, when I was on holiday it hardly rained at all and the records for the month show that rain fell less frequently than would be expected (on 9 out my 22 days there as opposed to 11-13 out of the 22 days that I was there as would be reasonable to expect based on the climatological facts!) but that a lot less rain fell than normal too - in the whole month less than half the total average September rainfall fell so as far as rainfall was concerned I was pretty lucky! Needless to say because conditions were drier than usual there was also less thunder than usual.

As for temperatures, average temperatures in Orlando in September are around 32C by day and 21C by night. Nightime temperatures were very close to this throughout my holiday whilst with the excpetion of my last two days daytime temperatures were always within a degree or two of this. So, as far as temperature is concerned it seems as though September 1997 was a very 'average month'.

I should point out at this stage that August and September are the months when hurricanes are most likely to affect Florida. However, that said, the chances of being caught up in a hurricane are quite small, especially inland, and in Florida Orlando is about as inland as you get! Anyway, September 1997 was a quiet month for hurricanes and none came anywhere near Florida. As a weather forecaster I'd have quite liked to have been caught up in one, but as I'm a nice guy at heart and have no wish to see havoc wreaked on any particular region I suppose I'm quite pleased there wasn't one! However, in September the areas most likely to be affected by hurricanes are the Keys and Dade County in the south and the panhandle in the north.

Anyway, enough chit chat and on to my holiday photos. Below you'll see daily satellite photos of the period I was in Florida. The satellite images were generally all made at quarter past midnight GMT, which in Florida is the late afternoon/early evening local time the day before (ie about 6 hours behind GMT).
1800ish local time, Sat 6 Sept - flew into Orlando, max temp 30.5C, no rain 0600ish local time, Sun 7 Sept - min 21C, max 30.5C, less than 1mm rain, which fell in the morning if I remember rightly
1800ish, Mon 8 Sept - min 19.5C, max 31C, no rain - note Hurricane Erika east of USA 1800ish, Tues 9 Sept - min 21C max 31.5C, no rain
1800ish Wed 10 Sept - min 21C max 33C, no rain 1800ish Thurs 11 Sept - min 21.5C max 34C, no rain
0600ish Fri 12 Sept - min 23C max 34C, 1.5mm rain 1800ish Sat 13 Sept - min 21.5C max 33C, no rain
1800ish Sun 14 Sept - min 22C max 34C, no rain 1800ish Mon 15 Sept - min 21C max 33C, less than 1mm rain
0600ish Tues 16 Sept - min 21C max 34C, no rain 1800ish Wed 17 Sept - min 21.5C max 33C, no rain
1800ish Thu 18 Sept - min 21.5C max 34C, no rain 1800ish Fri 19 Sept - min 19C max 32C, 5.6mm rain
1800ish Sat 20 Sept - min 19.5C max 32C, less than 1mm rain 1800ish Sun 21 Sept - min 19C max 33C, no rain - note Hurricane Nora close to the western Mexican coast
1800ish Mon 22 Sept - min 21C max 32.5C, no rain 1800ish Tue 23 Sept - min 23C max 34C, 4.5mm rain
1800ish Wed 24 Sept - min 23C max 33C, less than 1mm rain 1800ish Thu 25 Sept - min 23C max 32.5C, no rain in Orlando, but rain and thunder at Cape Canaveral in the evening
1800ish Fri 26 Sept - min 23C max 28C, 5.3mm rain and thunder 1800ish Sat 27 Sept - min 23C max 25.6C, 24mm rain

References/Sources
Satellite pictures were obtained from Unisys Weather Image Archive
Weather observations for Orlando were taken from the National Weather Service in Melbourne, eastern Florida
Information about the climate of Florida came Winsberg, M. D. (1992) Florida Weather University of Central Florida Press, p171.

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Dan Suri, 19 April 2001