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Date of Issue: December 07, 2006

Sandscript

Taking a look back in time to hurricane season long ago

With Hurricane Season 2006 in its final few days, here's a blast from the past - as the St. Petersburg Times put it - as you contemplate those leftover turkey parts.

It seems that the early European settlers at Plymouth Rock had to contend with a Category 3 hurricane not long after they settled in their new world. The storm hit in August 1635, making landfall in what would later become Long Island and then traveling north into New England. The storm packed 130-mph winds and had a 21-foot flood surge.

It was a fast-moving hurricane at about 30 mph, so the impact was fierce but fleeting. There was enough of a blow, though, to wreck houses and ships. Power outages were minimal, of course.

According to a report by William Bradford, leader of the Plymouth colony, "Such a mighty storm of wind and rain as none living in these parts, either English or Indian, ever saw. It blew down sundry houses and uncovered others ... it blew down many hundred thousands of trees, turning up the strongest by the roots and breaking the higher pine trees off in the middle."

The "Colonial Hurricane," as it has been called, has sent a message to storm trackers of today. A similar storm, on a similar path, could pretty much take out a huge swath of the country. And yes, power outages would be a bit more widespread today than what the Pilgrims had to deal with in 1635.

Happy end of Hurricane Season 2006. Time for Spam sandwiches.

Tsunami to the west

An earthquake-spawned tsunami from Japan snuck up and smacked Crescent City, Calif., a week or so ago, causing about $1 million in damage. There are some red faces on the tidal wave forecasters, not a result of the first warning, which came pretty much on schedule, but another big wave that wasn't forecast came three hours later with no warning.

According to the journal Nature, a harbor master in the city watched the surprise wave and commented, "It looked like the tide coming in really fast. The water would go from high tide to low tide in the span of maybe 10 minutes." The waves reached a height of about 6 feet.

The earthquake was a magnitude-8.1 trembler, which took place off the Kuril Islands near Japan. Five hours later, Crescent City got hit by the waves.

Apparently the Pacific Ocean-fronting city has something of a tsunami history. A wave killed 11 people there in 1964, the only fatalities in recorded history in the continental United States resulting from a tidal wave.

We've got all this advance warning data streaming into the "command centers" that watch for such waves. As the Nature article put it, "So why was the warning called off? The decision was based on the small predicted size of the surge, says Paul Whitmore of the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. It was a classic example of officials struggling to balance the need for warning with the dangers of a false alarm, he adds. Other experts say they agree with the tough decision, but the event has left some calling for changes in the U.S. tsunami alert system."

As one expert put it, "We consciously decided that it wasn't appropriate to warn the entire state of California for this event, so we did a very targeted, one-on-one, personal notification."

The harbormaster got a call, but the waves were later than anticipated and much, much larger than predicted.

The whole incident is similar to those that hurricane forecasters face every time a storm starts brewing in the Atlantic. If you order an evacuation, and the storm dwindles or changes course, the chances are good that the next time a storm comes that way, people will blow you off, not leave, figure you don't know what you're doing, and people will die.

Unlike our hurricane gurus, it seems that there isn't much in the way of gray in tsunami warning circles. It's coming, or it's not, is about the way they play the game.

After the Crescent City debacle, that may change. As one guy put it, "When we call a warning, it's either all on or all off. There needs to be a level of warning that doesn't trigger that massive response - an advisory that just tells people to stay off the beach and out of the water."

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Landscape assistance available

There's some planting assistance available to you, and it's free.

"The Manatee County Extension Service's Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program began offering landscape planning assistance to homeowners in August 2006," according to the agency. "The program has been a huge success with positive feedback from both participating homeowners and the Master Garden Yard Advisors who meet with individuals. We are extending this program into 2007 and have dates available for homeowners who haven't yet taken advantage of this free service."

Sessions are available on the first Wednesday afternoon and the third Monday morning of each month from January through June.  Homeowners can schedule an appointment by calling 941-722-4524, ext. 237, or by completing the online form at manatee.ifas.ufl.edu/fyn/landscape_assist.htm.

If you go to the session, they suggest you bring a drawing of your property or site sketch, pictures of the yard and plants, and any ideas about what you want to create in the landscape. "Yard Advisors will work with you on your ideas to help you create a Florida-friendly landscape plan. You'll receive the FYN Handbook, workbook, checklist for yard recognition, and the UF/IFAS 2006 plant list.

Sounds like a good deal, all brought to us by the University of Florida Manatee County Extension Service, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Manatee County.

 

Fishing bans spreading

My old buddy Dr. David Tomasko told a good story years ago about what he called "taboo zones" in the Pacific. It seems that islanders there would often come up with a part of the water that all agreed would not be fished for a while, allowing the critters to grow fat and numerous to be caught another day.

They'd been doing that fishing taboo for thousands of years. Now, it would appear, we're finally catching on.

The Florida Cabinet agreed to extend a no-fishing preserve in the Dry Tortugas, west of Key West. The total preserve is more than 260 square miles, and no fishing of any kind is allowed in the zone.

Fishery experts hope the zone will allow a resurgence of oft-overfished stock like red snapper and grouper.

It's the largest fish preserve in North America.

California is following Florida's lead, with about 200 square miles of preserve scheduled to be put in place early next year. The preserve there stretches from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, and is expected to aid in the recovery of rockfish, abalone and shellfish.

Naysayers state that the zones aren't needed, that the bans will only increase imports from abroad, and that the stock is in fine shape as it is. "We're being regulated out of business," one fisher said.

A scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council countered the arguments with a flat statement: "We've mismanaged the oceans from abundance into scarcity. We can't protect our oceans without setting aside safe havens where fish can grow big and the whole food web can thrive."

Preserves seem like a pretty good compromise to me. Establishing no-fishing zones sure makes more sense than an outright ban on using one type of gear, like gillnets, to attempt to save our natural resources.

 

Sandscript factoid

Los Angeles has come up with a fan palm ban. City council members have decided not to plant any more of the tall, willowy palms that have been the city's mainstay for decades, opting instead to plant the more pedestrian sycamore, oak or other native species that provide more shade, although not quite the same ambiance.

It's the end of another era.

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