On water, hurricanes, helping hands and horrible noise
The aftermath of two major hurricanes blowing through the Gulf of Mexico in a month has done a number on the Gulf's water. Although Anna Maria Island was spared from any storm-related damage, the issue of water quality remains - is it safe to go swimming?
Sure. Kinda. So far, anyway.
Hurricane Katrina's passage and the flooding in New Orleans that ensued and subsequent stormwater runoff (toxic gumbo?) is a concern. A plume of dirty water is, or was, lurking south of Louisiana, moving south via the Loop Current.
A whole host of officials from federal, state, regional and other agencies have been and will continue to take water samples and monitor the plume's passage.
"We will share the information gathered during this sampling effort with other agencies to aid in determining any health risks, short- and long-term environmental impacts, and impacts to commercial and recreational fisheries and other wildlife," said Gil McRae, director of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. "This initial sampling effort off Panama City should also tell us whether the Mississippi River water is crossing the continental shelf break or hugging the shelf with the Loop Current, as we suspect."
The Loop Current, by the way, is a huge current that flows north between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, then splits in spirals with one heading and looping along the Texas coast and another going east and then south off Florida's west coast. The eventual outfall forms the start of the Gulf Stream off the Florida Keys and goes to Greenland.
I would guess, though, that all bets are off as to what the Katrina-spawned plume will do until things settle down following Rita. One school of thought is that that dirty water got chopped into foam in Rita's at-one-time 175-mph winds. Another argument is that the winds and waves could have concentrated the mess and, with more flooding and more stormwater runoff from New Orleans, things could get even worse.
It's like that pesky water-glass question. Is it half full or half empty?
One thing thing that is certain, though, is that the persistent red tide inflicting our area was driven ashore as Rita passed. Even some of us who are not usually susceptible to the scratchy throats and coughing were hacking over the weekend, and if the dead fish along the Gulf and bay shores and in the bayside canals are any indication, our fishy friends are faring even worse.
Remember that Manatee County, as well as all other coastal counties in Florida, conducts water-quality testing at set sites along the shore weekly. We haven't had an "unsafe beach" advisory around here for a while, and there have been no "beach closed" notices provided as of early this week.
But, if in doubt, check with a lifeguard.
A good thing to have done
My buddy Jack Gurney just got back from three weeks as a volunteer with the American Red Cross, aiding Hurricane Katrina refugees. It sounds like it must have been quite a time.
Jack, like most of the rest of us, was hypnotized by the scenes on TV describing the damage to Mississippi, Alabama and New Orleans following Katrina's passage. Unlike the rest of us, though, he decided to take some direct action: He went down to the American Red Cross office in Sarasota, went through a training program, and volunteered to help out. He was deployed to Lawrenceville, Ga., to help displaced people sent there to get on with their lives.
With his background as a reporter, Jack started out doing case work with clients, interviewing people primarily from Louisiana at first, and then later from Mississippi, helping to determine their financial, medical and personal needs. Reconnection with loved ones and family was a key element in his task.
As time wore on, though, Jack's background in government - he served as a city commissioner and mayor of Sarasota for a few years - took him to the unenviable post as "mass care director" wherein he made sure the 1,000 or so clients and workers received food and other supplies daily. I got the impression that there was a lot of scrounging involved in the process.
He explained that the process involves more than just handouts. Some folks are getting settled in apartments and other more permanent residences, while emergency crews deal with what is left of their homes. As we learned from Hurricane Charley in Punta Gorda, Wauchula and other hurricane-affected Florida cities, it's not going to be a quick fix.
Jack's son Todd followed the Gurney tradition and left late last week for Gulfport, Miss., to help in the relief effort. Todd will be piloting 18-wheelers around for a month.
I'm proud of them both.
Got a nice e-mail from a man from England last week asking about hurricane information. He, his bride and the wedding entourage are coming to the Island in a week or so and he was rightfully worried about all the storm activity.
We sent him a list of Internet sites that provide information about storms and thought that anybody not glued to the tube here may find the Web sites and data they offer of interest. Enjoy:
Evacuation and shelter information: co.manatee.fl.us - go to the emergency operation section for evacuation routes and information.
Forecast information: nhc.noaal.gov - the official National Hurricane Center site.
eglin.af.mil/weather/tropics.html - a very cool site with lots of graphics.
ndbc.noaa.gov/hmd.shtml - all of the weather buoys throughout the world, with lots of real-time weather information provided.
Anyone who's spent any time on any of the barrier islands off the Florida coast knows that the sand which constitutes the islands moves with the wind, waves, tides and currents.
Depending on the storm, the beach can be wider or narrower. After Hurricane Katrina passed through the Northern Gulf Coast, some of the islands moved landward at a significant rate.
Several federal agencies, notably NASA, provide documented aerial and satellite photography "on Dauphin Island, a barrier island approximately 90 miles from where Katrina made landfall, storm surge inundated the island and waves transported sand landward into fan-shaped deposits, shifting the entire island landward."
Good news for bayfront property owners who suddenly have a whole new "beach" in front of their homes, but bad news for Gulffront property owners who suddenly have a whole new meaning to the word "waterfront" - some of the beach homes are well out in the surf on that island.
What with all of the horrors of the past few weeks caused by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita - don't you just love that alliteration? - here's a bit of lightness and frivolity.
Jeff Rubin opened Vin Cella in north Sarasota City early this year. It's a wine celler, where customers can rent a climate-controlled space in an old warehouse to store up to 2,000 bottles of their finest. Also available is a lounge and a room for tastings and catered dinners for up to 20 people.
He's got 52 padlocked cellers in the place, and has already rented half of the units.
The cost? "Only" $800 a month.
Vin Cella may be the only thing I've heard of lately that makes beachfront property on Anna Maria Island sound like a deal.