Duane K. McCullough
Image of bay storm artwork
There is a rhyming story to help people remember the hurricane season in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico areas and goes as:
June, too soon -- as in the chances are that it is too soon to have a major storm.
July, standby -- as in get ready for some serious hurricane activity.
August, if you must -- as in if you have to travel in the Caribbean, only do it if you must.
September, remember -- as in remember what hurricanes have done in the past to those who have lost everything.
October, it's over -- as in the hurricane season was thought to be over, but in certain areas of the Caribbean -- in particularly southern Florida, backdoor hurricanes can come from the southwest and move right over our area. The term "it's over" has a different meaning for those who have suffered greatly during October hurricanes.
The month of November has no rhyme in the hurricane season story because it was once believed that October was the end of hurricane season -- however, it was added as a buffer month in recent times because storms have taken place in that month.
In fact, with little warning, Tropical Storm Mitch hit the Key Largo area one night in early November 1998 after the hottest Summer on record in Southern Florida and destroyed about 200 trailer houses with several waterspouts that became tornados over land.
The morning after, the Gulf of Mexico pushed into Florida Bay with about 8 hours of 60 mile per hour winds from the west and the level of the bay rose over five feet -- destroying many sponges and bayside docks along the coast. A week earlier before Mitch hit Key Largo it was category 5 hurricane that hit Central America and killed nearly 18,000 persons with rainwater and mountain mudslides.
As far as Caribbean hurricanes go, Mitch was very unusual in that before it came ashore in Central America, it hovered just north of Honduras for over a day and night as a category 5 storm where people on an island had to endure about 30 hours of storm wind gust greater than 155 miles an hour.
In September 1935, a category 5 hurricane came ashore just south of Key Largo in Islamorada with a 20 foot storm surge wave that pushed the train off the tracks of the Overseas Railroad. And in August 1992, the eye of category 5 Hurricane Andrew blew toward the west just north of Florida Bay causing over 30 billion dollars to the economy of southern Florida.
Hurricane Andrew also killed many of plants and animals in the Everglades that, overtime, flushed toward the upper Florida Bay area as nutrients and may have contributed to record amounts of green algae laden water which killed thousands of acres of sea grass in the bay in 1994 and 1995.
In 1989, category 5 Hurricane Gilbert never hit the Florida Keys, but government water managers who control a major flood canal north of Key Largo thought it might and so released millions of gallons of freshwater into the upper Florida Bay lagoon area -- which ultimately killed thousands of saltwater plants and animals that took years for the area to recover. That event led to legislation which should prevent similar actions from happening again.
When Hurricane Wilma whipped across southern Florida in October 2005, she pushed Gulf waters into Florida Bay whereby the storm water levels reached over three times the standard annual levels and killed thousands of plants and animals. In fact, almost a year after the storm, most of the lagoon waters of upper Florida Bay area are still clouded with green nutrient chemistry from the marine life killed by the storm.
Actually, some hurricanes can have good overall effect of flushing out wetland areas which have accumulated debris overtime and clear room for new water channels that is needed to supply a variety of nutrients to healthy marine ecosystem. However, just tell that statement to survivors of the next major hurricane event and see what reaction you will get.
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