This section describes overall aspects of Florida and what makes it unique relative to other parts of the US. While the vast majority of travelers come to Florida to escape winter cold and to enjoy the beaches or Miami nightlife, there is a great deal of “nature” to be found in Florida. Florida is a natural peninsula that was considerably larger during the last ice age when sea levels were about 100 m (~330 ft) lower.
Florida extends farther south than any other part of the US (the contiguous part of the US that is – in North America) but this is not the main reason for its perceived winter warmth. In short, the Florida peninsula is surrounded by warm water, and only when winter winds come from the north, down the peninsula, are the coldest temperatures seen in the southern part of the state.
Florida’s Climate and Weather
Florida’s weather and climate deserves a bit more than wha was stated above. The ocean temperature around Florida does change seasonally, and in the northern Gulf of Mexico and along the shelf waters off Georgia the water temperature can drop into the low 60’s during the late winter months. The Gulf Stream is warm in winter, but less so than late summer, when the water around Florida is uniformly above 28˚C.
Rainfall over Florida does vary with the season. Northern Florida shows both winter and summer rainfall, while southern Florida has a distinct minimum in winter precipitation. This dry season is very important for the Everglades region and the availability of water for wildlife.
Precipitation also varies with a strong diurnal cycle. During the afternoon in summer the rainfall occurs mostly over land areas, inland from the Atlantic coast. This is associated with the air ascending along the sea-breeze front that moves inland from both sides of Florida. This varies from day to day, depending on the prevailing winds, but the net effect is that a one of heaviest rainfall occurs inland from both coasts, with lesser amounts on the coast and especially over the Florida Keys.
Although the diversity of plant and animal life is greater in tropical and temperature regions, this is not universally true for all biotic groups. For plants that grow on trees (epiphytes) it is definitely true that there are many more epiphytic species (usually orchids, bromeliads and ferns) in the tropics than in higher latitudes. However, there are actually a greater biodiversity in northern Florida than in southern Florida. One important reason for this is that there are more environments in northern Florida than in the south. South Florida is all near sea-level and lacks river floodplains, dryish hills, and other micro environments. South Florida has also be inundated during various sea-level fluctuations during the past tens of thousands of years (warmer periods result in more ice cap melting and higher sea level, the opposite for cold periods).
Another reason for greater biodiversity in northern Florida is that species can easily migrate from northern latitudes into northern Florida, but cannot as easily arrive from southern latitudes due to the ocean barrier.