More bad weather coming - for decades to come?
With what became tropical storm No. 17 of the season, Hurricane Rita, blowing out in the Gulf of Mexico as you read this, there can't be anybody out there who isn't saying, "Can't these hurricanes just go away?!"
Well, probably not for a few decades.
Something scientists have dubbed as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is stirring up the North Atlantic Ocean. Every 25 years or so the waters either warm or cool. Warmer water means more hurricanes; cooler waters mean less storm activity.
In 1995, the waters of the North Atlantic warmed 1 degree. That might not sound like much of a warming trend, but when you think about the zillions of gallons of water spread over zillions of square miles, and consider how much energy it would take to hike the temp a degree, it's a pretty impressive display of raw power.
And that raw power has historically translated into lots more hurricanes.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, the last warm phase was from 1950-69, when there were a slew of powerful hurricanes formed and driven ashore in the United States, most apparently in the North Carolina region.
Then the water cooled, and almost no activity happened until 1987. Things started to heat up again, and in 1995 the storms began to hit land with greater regularity.
If we thought 2004 was a record-setter with Florida's four hurricanes in less than two months, 'twere nothing compared to what we've had so far.
We're in the middle of the AMO, too, with more expected for at least another decade, probably two.
Now, one thing that could help us out would be if that pesky El Nino would stir up the Pacific Ocean. When Pacific waters cool, as happens with the so-called El Nino effect, the Atlantic hurricane activity seems to chill out as well. And since the El Nino pattern is also cyclical, and we haven't seen much of the old boy in the past few years, we should be about due.
In the meantime, batten down and bump up your homeowner's insurance.
Katrina byproducts heading our way?
One of the little nasty side-effects of Hurricane Katrina's landfall in the northern Gulf of Mexico appears to be oozing its way south toward us.
All of the rain and stormwater runoff caused by the storm has flowed into the Gulf and, in addition to all the usual summertime runoff from the Mississippi River, appears to be flowing with the currents south toward our shores.
The Loop Current is the major water-mover in the Gulf. It shoots up in the strait between Cuba and the Yucatan peninsula, making a beeline for Louisiana. The current splits and curves into the Gulf, with one spike flowing off Florida's west coast, and another off the Texas east coast.
Satellite images indicate the plume of yuck from Louisiana and Mississippi is moving south and, although still pretty much still in the central Gulf, it has stretched some tentacles as far south as Naples. A research ship was sent out to take water samples late last week to see just what sort of nasty stuff the plume contains.
There is an old somewhat cynical water manager saying that "the secret to pollution solution is dilution." Despite all the oil, chemicals, sewage and other stuff that is flowing into the Gulf from New Orleans and the other Katrina-hit states, the Gulf is a pretty big body of water that can usually dilute a lot of bad stuff. Let's hope that it can handle the Katrina spew.
Enjoy the bay on Saturday
On a slightly lighter note, Saturday is National Estuary Day, and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is offering a special discounted look at the bay itself and some of the critters found in and around it.
For $6, you can get a cruise aboard the Sarasota Bay Explorer and also tour Mote Marine Aquarium on City Island just south of Longboat Key in Sarasota.
A marine biologist will discuss the waters while you're on the boat, will net a few critters for you to take an up-close-and-personal look at, and probably point out a few dolphin or manatees. There's also a nature walk on an unpopulated island that promises some good birding.
At Mote, you can tour the tanks and check out the new exhibits and wave at the sharks in the big tank. One of my personal favorites at Mote are the sturgeon, by the way.
Tickets for the National Estuaries Day celebration must be purchased and picked up in advance at the Sarasota Bay Explorer desk at the Mote Aquarium entrance. Tickets are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. now through Friday, Sept 23. The Aquarium address is 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. For more information call 388-4200.
Also on a somewhat lighter note is a palm tree tragedy propagated by well-meaning owners. In a human, it would be a really bad hair day.
Jane Morse, University of Florida/IFAS Manatee County Extension Agent, has noticed that there is an awful lot of really aggressive palm tree pruning going on. "Everywhere I go I see it," she said. "It is so widespread that there should be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Palms. This palm mistreatment has become so commonplace that it is the new standard of look for palms. This is a true tragedy for palms."
As Morse explains it, "Palms should have full crowns with fronds draping down and covering the growing bud. Since palms only have one growing bud, it needs to be protected from the elements as much as possible. A true ‘hurricane cut' would be no cuts at all, but to leave all the fronds on the palm tree so that is has protection from the winds and flying debris. Just as we want to have walls around us to protect us from a storm, the fronds of a palm are its walls of protection."
In other words, Mother Nature knows what's best and just leave things alone.
When we start to second-guess Mother Nature by overpruning, bad things can happen to the trees. "Palms that have been over-pruned will start to pencil point, meaning they will start growing more narrow at the top. This is because the palm is starving. The fronds of the palm are where its food is produced. Fertilizer is not food. Fertilizer provides elements. Only fronds produce food. Live fronds should be left on the palm. To have the healthiest palms only remove the fronds that are totally dead."
She also added that exotic palms do need to be fertilized four times a year, in February, April, June and October, while native palms should be fertilized twice a year.
And as an alternative to fertilizer, mulch works pretty well as well, as long as you remember to spread the mulch out to the edge of the canopy of the palm.
Morse is right, by the way, about the short trim jobs on palms. It seems everywhere I look I see what some folks call "hurricane cuts" which are truly a bad fashion statement both aesthetically and naturally.
The Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico can reach speeds of better than 4 nautical miles per hour, about the same speed than we can walk on land.