Coastal geographic changes to Southwest Florida left by Charley
The coastal landscape of Southwest Florida has been significantly altered in the wake of Hurricane Charley's passage Aug. 13.
A new pass, about 400 yards wide, has formed on Upper Captiva Island due to storm surge, high winds and pounding waves. Previous identification in The Islander of the "new" pass had it one island farther north, on Cayo Costa.
No homes were damaged in the pass creation and, in fact, that stretch of the barrier island is pretty much uninhabited. There are a lot of multi-million-dollar homes on the north tip of the island.
The new pass is just north of Redfish Pass, which allows water flow between Pine Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. According to "A Historical Geography of Southwest Florida Waterways, Volume Two," Redfish Pass was formed by a hurricane itself in 1921, the same year another "new" pass was formed between Longboat Key and Lido Shores which bears the original name of New Pass.
"This narrow ribbon of barrier island is subject to overwash of storm waves from the Gulf to the bayside, as occurred in 1960," according to the late Dr. Gus Antonini in the book - and historic charts indicate that there was a historic channel about where the new inlet is today.
Everything changes. Everything's the same.
Odd beach scour
Included with the pictures of destruction the Islander's aerial photographer Jack Elka brought back from Lee and Charlotte counties in Charley's aftermath were some odd-looking scour marks on the beaches there.
According to Rick Spadoni, a coastal engineer with Coastal Planning and Engineering in Boca Raton - he's the guy who handled much of the Island's beach renourishment project - the beach configuration is called a "cuspate beach."
"It appears that the storm formed a cuspate beach, actually pushing sand up," Spadoni said after reviewing the pictures. "This cuspate affect occurs when wave run-up happens on a fairly low flat beach, and forms regularly spaced areas of runoff. It also appears the wave direction was perpendicular to the shoreline, which would create the cuspate effect."
And for the Island?
Spadoni added in part, "storm surge would be expected above the 10-foot level. Given the low elevation of Anna Maria Island, it would be expected that the Island would be under water.
"If the hurricane passed immediately north, the wind would push water onshore, which is bad. It would also push water into Tampa Bay, which would increase the chance from bayside flooding. If the storm passed south, Anna Maria Island would receive an offshore wind, which would reduce storm-surge flooding, but potentially place the Island in the northeast quadrant of the storm, which often has the highest wind gusts and highest rainfall rates.
"As a last general comment," Spadoni said, "the speed of the forward motion of the storm also plays a role in the wind speed and the duration of the 'pounding' taken from the storm."
We were very, very lucky indeed on Friday the 13th.
News from Pine Island
Got word from author, journalist and former fishing guide Randy Wayne White the other day. He weathered the bad weather in his old house atop an Indian mound on Pine Island, right in the middle of the path of Charley. He sent this report.
"Hey guys, it's Wednesday, 18 August, generator running. Coleman lamp burning, and I've just realized the DSL is once again working. I last posted at 1:30 a.m. eight hours after Charlie hit, and just before the DSL went out. It seems like Friday was a month ago, not five days ago.
"We've been without power, water, telephone, and it took the National Guard three days to cut their way into this little village. I'm too pooped to go into detail now, but the devastation on Pine Island was far worse than I thought. This old house, though, and this Indian Mound have forever proven themselves as the safest of safe harbors.
"The West Coast of Florida is temporarily out of order, but we are coming back fast, so don't change your fall and winter vacation plans."
New deepwater discoveries in the Gulf
Tropical Storm Bonnie - remember Bonnie, the storm that chugged ashore in the Big Bend area of the state the day before Charley? - dictated a course correction for scientists studying the deep waters of the Gulf, but the 10-day trip was still viewed as a success.
According to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Laboratory officials, the Operation Deep Scope was "a wildly successful" exploratory expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, although the scientists had to run 100 miles off its scheduled course due to the storm.
A new low-light camera system that records what's happening in the depths worked well, according to the lab, and provided some data to support a theory that some animals use polarized light to find prey.
"The scientists also discovered new phenomena such as the world's first known fluorescent shark and fluorescence from methane hydrates, which could lead to a new detection technique for this potential future energy source," according to the scientists.
"We are returning with an embarrassment of riches," said expedition co-leader Dr. Edie Widder, head of Harbor Branch's Biophotonics Center.
Not everything is peaceful down in the depths of the Gulf, it would appear. According to the Harbor Branch folks, "The team had several incredible run-ins with large predators during submersible dives. At two separate locations, massive sixgill sharks were present long enough for extended views, and on one occasion a disoriented swordfish attacked the submersible, though it did not cause any damage."