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What is a sea breeze and why does it cause so many storms?

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Why does it always seem to storm at the same time every day here in the summer? Two words: sea breeze.

The sea breeze is the culprit for much of our weather during the summer months in Central Florida. It is the weather feature that decides where storms develop and where they move to.

Florida is the only state that is affected by colliding sea breeze storms, since it’s the only place in the country that is surrounded by two large bodies of water: the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

By definition, a sea breeze is a flow from the sea toward the land that typically peaks in intensity during the afternoon. This is caused by a slight difference in temperatures and pressure between land and water that pushes this boundary back and forth during the day and night. 

During the day, lower pressure over land brings this sea breeze fronts inland from both coasts. This small-scale fluctuating breeze happens almost every day in Florida, but it is most prevalent during the summer months.

That’s because typically during the summer, warm and moist air over Florida adds more instability and lift to developing storms.

Think of the sea breeze boundary as a very small cold front sliding inland from both coasts. Ahead of these mini fronts, storms develop while it slowly tracks over land. We see these normally developing between noon and 2 p.m. almost every summer afternoon.

The big booming thunderstorms packed with torrential rain and hundreds of lightning strikes happen when these two “small cold fronts” collide and spend hours battling it out. 

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots
Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots (Mattel)

Meteorologist Troy Bridges likes to compare this battle of the sea breeze to the classic Mattel game, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. You might remember this game -- it’s where the robots battle each other in the ring until one of the robot’s head pops up. Now picture this back and forth battle in the skies. 

All the instability and lift, collected along these two boundaries, combine to create even stronger storms that sometimes reach severe weather criteria. This collision on average happens after 2 p.m. and could linger through sundown on some days. 

The hard part of forecasting sea breeze storms is that these boundaries fluctuate in strength and speed from day to day. Both of these characteristics dictate where and when storms develop.

1. Equal sea breezes: If both sea breezes form at about the same time and their strengths are relatively equal, they will meet at the halfway point over Central Florida. This setup favors storm development over far western counties like Marion, Lake and Sumter.

Equal sea breezes
Equal sea breezes (News 6)

2. Strong west coast sea breeze: If the west coast sea breeze dominates through the day, the strike zone will develop toward the eastern half of the peninsula. This will cause storms to be pinned along the beaches through the latter part of the day.

West coast sea breeze
West coast sea breeze (News 6)

3.  Strong east coast sea breeze: If the east coast sea breeze is the stronger of the two, it will push all the activity toward the west coast. This setup on average, is the most common pattern during the summer months.

East coast sea breeze
East coast sea breeze (News 6)

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