MIAMI (CBS4) – Florida carries the moniker of the Sunshine State, but as the winter dry season continues to move along; fire and drought conditions are deteriorating across the South Florida area.

Outside of the occasional brief shower, South Florida has not seen significant rains in a long time. It’s creating severe drought conditions across parts of the area and it’s also bringing the water level in Lake Okeechobee down to levels that may force more severe water restrictions.

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According to the National Weather Service, for the three month period from October 1 to December 30, Miami is 6.6 inches below normal rainfall for the year. The numbers are even worse in Broward, down 8.39 inches during those months; and Palm Beach County is 9.23 inches below normal for the time period.U.S. Drought Monitor

The NWS said that severe drought conditions now exist through Glades and northern Palm Beach Counties; and moderate drought conditions include all of Broward County, Northern Miami-Dade, and northeast mainland Monroe Counties.

The water in Lake Okeechobee is currently 2.2 feet below normal and is currently around 12.4 feet as of January 1. The Lake is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers and they make the decisions on the management of the lake.

Still, the worsening drought condition is causing the South Florida Water Management District to being taking action to conserve water.

“The below-average rainfall during the wet season and the lack of rainfall during the current dry season has caused groundwater and surface water levels to decline significantly,” said Tommy Strowd, SFWMD Deputy Executive Director of Operations and Maintenance. “The existing situation and the long-term forecast for continued extreme dry conditions make water conservation efforts imperative.”

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The SFWMD has put Palm Beach County and the area surrounding Lake Okeechobee into a phase one water usage restriction. That limits most residential and commercial water usage to three days per week.

In addition, the SFWMD is also asking for everyone in South Florida to try and conserve as much water as possible to help them deal with the impending worsening drought conditions.

The three month forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is not bringing any good news for water managers. The forecast shows that except for the panhandle, South Florida has a 50-60 percent chance of having below normal precipitation.

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released on January 6 showed that the ongoing drought in South Florida is only going to get worse through at least the end of March.

The drought comes after the 2010 wet season produced approximately a 6-inch deficit. But, it’s still too early to tell if the ongoing drought will reach the levels found from November 2008 to April 2009, which marked the driest six-month period in South Florida since 1932.

Plus, the La Niña that powered the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season remained strong over the equatorial Pacific Ocean. According to the CPC, this means that there’s an increased chance for below-average rainfall across the southeast and southwest; and above-average temperatures across the southern states. It’s setting up a perfect storm for a busy wildfire season.

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And if the La Niña continues to remain moderate-to-strong, the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season could be just as busy as last year’s.