The most beautiful time of the year is here
"After one has lived in those latitudes long enough the changes of the seasons become as important there as anywhere else and the man, who loved the island, did not want to miss any spring, nor summer, nor any fall or winter.
"Sometimes the summers were too hot when the wind dropped in August or when the trade winds sometimes failed in June and July. Hurricanes, too, might come in September and October and even in early November and there could be freak tropical storms any time from June on. But the true hurricane months have fine weather when there are no storms.
"The man had studied tropical storms for many years and he could tell from the sky when there was a tropical disturbance long before his barometer showed its presence. He knew how to plot storm and the precautions that should be taken against them. He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people on the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it. He also knew that hurricanes could be so bad that nothing could live through them. He always thought, though, that if there was ever one that bad he would like to be there for it and go with the house if she went."
Ernest Hemingway's island is Bimini in the passage above from his posthumous novel, "Islands In The Stream," but he could have been describing Anna Maria.
And Hemingway would have loved October here, the most beautiful month there is. Fall is just a hint in the air, the humidity has dropped and there is usually a light breeze.
Since it's been so dry, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the bays are clear and have a special teal color over the sandbars in the passes. Water temperatures have cooled just enough to make the water comfortable again after the hot-tub August swelter.
Summer tourist season has diminished, and the winter "high season" is off in the distance, so visitors are few, mostly snowbirds of six-months or more. Locals fill the restaurants and lounges these days, friends not seen for a while.
Even the ride tide has waned.
Good news on that plume
Preliminary results are in from water-sampling studies in the northern Gulf, and the data state that the dangers feared to be a feature of the plume are naught.
"Water and sediment samples, collected two weeks ago off Panama City by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, revealed little environmental impact from Hurricane Katrina in that area," according to a release. "There was no indication that Mississippi River water had moved alongshore into the Florida Panhandle."
Scientists had feared that a huge plume of muddy water, spotted by satellite imagery shortly after Hurricane Katrina's landfall in the North Gulf, might contain a toxic cocktail from the flooding in New Orleans and surrounding areas.
Not so, though, at least so far.
The studies aren't over just yet. "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also is assessing the oceanography and water quality of the Gulf of Mexico," according to FWC officials. "The federal agency recently completed a sampling transect from the Dry Tortugas to the Florida Panhandle, and more measurements and water sampling will take place in the northern Gulf Oct. 6-16. The federal agency's South Florida program will modify its regular field study to sample the Southeastern Gulf thoroughly a few days later."
Current patterns in the Gulf generally take water from the north and pump it south until it catches the beginnings of the Gulf Stream between the Florida Keys and Cuba. The water then makes its way to Ireland.
The researchers have been dropping what they describe as "oceanographic drifters," which are floating devices that collect temperature, speed and direction information in the Gulf to monitor water quality and also aid in tropical storm forecasts, and more are being added weekly.
One element that helped with the suspected Katrina toxic brew was Hurricane Rita, which apparently did indeed "mixed the post-Katrina plume water substantially, which would essentially dilute concentrations of soluble contaminants," according to the FWC.
Researchers tested the water for a host of substances, finding low to no readings for mercury and pesticides. Red tide was found in many samples, but in relatively low levels. Nitrogen readings were also slightly higher than usual, but still met the "low" parameters.
Iron and aluminum in the deeper water were at higher levels than usual, findings that scientists believe were spurred by sediment stirring as the big storms passed through.
One more item to scratch off the environmental worry list. Only about a zillion to go.
Ice ice baby - oops!
Here's a Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane tale that would be funny if it wasn't so serious.
The feds ordered up 91,000 tons of ice to cool off Hurricane Katrina sufferers.
Yes, tons. To bring the enormity of the quantity of ice into perspective, an 18-wheel semi-trailer will hold 20 tons.
Yes, that's 45,000 big rigs.
However, as reported by the New York Times, the delivery took on a Keystone Cops morass of misdirection as truck drivers went from point to point in the country as FEMA tried to figure out where the ice should go and how it should get there.
One driver told a "wonderful" travelogue about his fruitless ice delivery. He picked up his load in Pennsylvania and took it to Missouri to a staging area. No, he was told, you need to go to Alabama. No, Mississippi, they said. When he got there, he was sent back to Alabama, where he was told to go to Virginia. He spent seven days idling his refrigerated truck full of ice there until the feds finally decided they didn't need all the ice they'd ordered after all and sent him to Nebraska, where he unloaded the cargo in a storage facility to await the next disaster.
Total cost of giving the 91,000 tons of ice a tour of the country - about $100 million.
Giant squid finally poses for pictures
Japanese scientists have taken the first pictures of a giant squid in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Tokyo.
The giant squid took a baited hook in about 3,300 feet of water and was snagged there for several hours, allowing the scientists to snap more than 550 digital pictures before it broke loose. It was estimated to be about 26 feet long.
Marine experts have been fascinated by the creature since the carcass of one was found off Newfoundland in 1874. Jules Verne was so taken by the critter that he featured it battling Capt. Nemo's ship "Nautilus" in his book, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
Giant squid are a favorite food for sperm whales. Sometimes, the sperm whales don't win in the lunch stakes.
The remains of a giant squid are on display at Mote Marine Laboratory if you want to get up close and personal with one of the mysteries of the sea.
Hurricane frequency is what is most discussed of late - rightly so, with, Stan, the 18th named storm this year, chugging its way toward Mexico.
What's as important is intensity, as those in the northern Gulf Coast can attest following Category 4 Katrina and Category 3 Rita landfalls.
Some scientists believe both frequency and intensity are on an upswing. The statistics aren't good, especially in the intensity front.
The following is from the Oct. 3 issue of "Time" magazine:
"In a study published in the journal 'Nature' last month, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology surveyed roughly 4,800 hurricanes in the North Atlantic and North Pacific over the past 56 years. While he found no increase in the total number of hurricanes, he found that their power - measured by wind speed and duration - had jumped 50 percent since the mid-1970s. 'The storms are getting stronger,' Emanuel said, 'and they're lasting longer.'"
Another scientist reached similar conclusions. According to Time, "Overall, the big storms have grown from just 20 percent of the global total to 35 percent."