Winter is the time of low, low tides on Florida’s Gulf coast. Even though it looks like the cool weather may be behind us for the season, it’s still winter as far as the tides are concerned. During winter, our winds tend to blow out of the north and east. If you look at a map of the Harbor, you’ll see that the outlets to the Gulf are all on the western edge and in the southern half. Because north and east winds push water toward the passes where it flows out into the Gulf, those winds result in less water in the Harbor. Also, our air pressure tends to be higher in winter than in summer. Just like low pressure in a hurricane sucks water up higher, high pressure pushes it down lower. These factors, combined with our naturally lower winter tides, mean we often experience very low low tides in winter (and high tides often don’t reach forecast heights).
In the winter especially, you’ve got to pay attention to both tides and weather conditions. A sustained and strong northeast wind will have a major effect on tide forecasts, which are constructed months or years in advance using mathematical equations and have no way of accounting for wind on a given day. If the wind’s blowing 20 knots out of the north and has been since yesterday, or if a strong cold front has just passed and the pressure is up, expect the low tide to be up to a foot lower than the chart shows.
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