As summer melted into fall and fall blurred into winter with no significant temperature changes, South Floridians relied on an artificial relief that wasn’t coming with the seasonal shift.
Air conditioners hummed through steamy autumn nights that dipped barely below 80 degrees, and electricity use clicked higher.
In November and October, Florida Power & Light Co. pumped out volts that resembled May instead of typical fall months.
FPL’s peak energy load in October registered 21,163 megawatts. November’s peak was 20,640.
In comparison, May’s peak was 21,099 megawatts.
While FPL wouldn’t reveal average bill amounts, officials did say it was safe to assume the added electricity use was because of the abnormally high temperatures experienced throughout its 35-county service area in 2015.
But was it all a blip in the grand climatological record of Earth, or a sign of things to come?
“The planet is sensitive,” said Robert Corell, a senior fellow in Florida International University’s School of Environment, Arts and Society. “We are moving out of a comfort zone and into extremes.”
Most scientists agree annual temperatures will fluctuate, even though the long-term trend is for a warmer Earth. But like the king tides that rose up last fall, spilling over seawalls that once contained the higher swells, record heat is a tangible measure – something felt physically, and in the pocketbook.
“These kinds of temperatures make climate change more real for people,” said Ilissa Ocko, a climate scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. “Even for someone like me who knows about this, seeing 75 degrees in Virginia on Christmas Day was surreal.”
Last year was South Florida’s warmest on record with the annual average temperature at the Palm Beach International Airport reaching 78 degrees, 2.6 degrees above the historic norm in records dating back to 1888.
Some months were more extreme than others. In Palm Beach County, November was pegged as the second warmest on record with an average temperature of 78.1 degrees, 5.3 degrees above the norm. November was Fort Lauderdale’s warmest on record. It was second warmest in Miami-Dade.
According to FPL, peak electric use in November 2014 was 17,734 megawatts, compared to 2015’s 20,640 megawatts.
Geoff Parkins, of Jupiter, saw his November electric bill shoot up about $120 compared to 2014.
“We typically try to shut the HVAC system down from early November to early April,” Parkins said. “We were still running the A/C through New Year’s.”
Lake Worth resident Ian Esplin said November stuck out in his electric bill as a super-use month, soaring above August and nearly equal with June. Lake Worth is not serviced by FPL.
“Obviously November dented our pocketbook a little bit more, but it wasn’t that extreme,” Esplin said. “We do open our windows when the weather cools but this year we’ve only been able to do that a few times until recently.”
FPL, which has its own meteorologist, studies peak use days, looking for trends and planning for future use needs, said FPL spokesman Bill Orlove.
“In hotter months, an air conditioner can account for half or more of a customer’s bill and can run up to twice as long as it does in cooler months to keep a home at the same temperature,” Orlove said. “Certainly, if you go from 16,200 megawatts up to almost 18,000 megawatts last month, there’s a reason for it.”
In December, which was a whopping 8.2 degrees above normal, peak energy use was 17,926 megawatts compared to 16,210 in 2014.