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Date of Issue: March 31, 2005

Sandscript

Another active storm season predicted for 2005

It would appear that another active hurricane season is in store for us in 2005.

Dr. William Gray, a Colorado State University meteorologist who has been offering storm forecasts for the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea for the past few decades, said he expects there to be 11 named storm, with six of them becoming hurricanes and three of them severe.

An average hurricane year sees nine-10 named storms, six of them becoming hurricanes and two of them severe.

Gray said the Atlantic is entering into a more intense hurricane pattern for the next 30 years, with more storms predicted and more intense hurricanes than we’ve experienced in the past 40 years.

The reason, he told attendees at the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans last week, is an increase in salinity and faster-moving ocean currents. As the current velocity accelerates, the amount of heat in the water increases, exacerbating storm development.

Gray said that a "new era" of storms began in 1995. "In the past 10 years, we’ve had more storms than in any period on record."

Gray and his team of researchers study global factors to determine Atlantic hurricane activity. Much of the basis of their predictions comes from what he calls the "great ocean conveyor belt," a Mobius strip-like series of surface and deep-ocean currents that upwells in the South Atlantic, flows along the surface to the Labrador Sea in the North Atlantic, then dives deep and flows southeast until upwelling in the Indian Ocean.

The conveyor belt mixes salinity of seawater. Greater salinity means warmer temperatures and more Atlantic storms; lesser salinity means colder seawater and fewer storms.

Another element of the global weather pattern that Gray and his team monitor to make storm predictions are weather patterns in Africa. When the region there is wetter than usual, hurricane formation in the Atlantic is generally increased.

Another key element in Gray’s forecast is the temperature of the waters off the United Kingdom and in the western Pacific Ocean.

Gray said the North Atlantic was warmer in the 1950s and 1960s, a period of time that saw more tropical storms in the Atlantic. Starting in the 1970s, water temperatures dropped, as did storm activity.

In the mid-1990s, though, the water began to warm and storms began to form.

"It’s shifting again," Gray said, "and we’re entering a higher mode of hurricane activity, especially with major storms."

Other factors Gray and his group take into account in the forecast include a high-pressure ridge located near the Azores in the North Atlantic, temperature and pressure readings in West Africa, Caribbean sea-level pressure readings, temperature readings about 54,000 feet above Singapore and wind speed globally at about 40,000 feet.

All it takes is a measure of the 2004 hurricane season to get a glimpse of what is in store for us in the years ahead. Last summer and fall saw 15 named storms, nine of which became hurricanes and six of them were major storms. Four of those hurricanes crisscrossed Florida.

This year also has a 69-percent chance of a major storm making landfall in the United States, Gray said.

His next storm update will be April 1, and he said his forecast may rise. However, the probabilities of Florida being hammered again are slight, Gray added.

Manatee deaths continue

Manatee deaths off Southwest Florida have risen in number to 43, apparently caused by the lingering red tide outbreak off the coast.

Most of the sea cow deaths have occurred in Lee and Charlotte counties, although one dead manatee was found in Sarasota Bay off Longboat Key.

Red tide, although a naturally occurring phenomenon, occasionally bursts into bloom, with an accompanying aerosol toxin that is irritating to air-breathing creatures. Manatees, being at water level to the red tide toxins, are adversely impacted by the bloom.

Another problem for the slow-moving marine mammals resluts from eating seagrasses that are covered with the red tide microorganism.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, "The Florida red tide bloom off the coast of Southwest Florida is still present alongshore between Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay. Alongshore samples collected last week from the bloom area contained very low to medium concentrations of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism.

"No positive counts were found south of Sarasota Bay," the FWC spokesperson said. "No offshore samples were received, but dead fish were reported early in the week offshore of Fort Myers. Dead fish and birds (two pelicans) were also reported in lower Tampa Bay. No reports of respiratory irritation were received. Additional dead manatees were recovered this week; cause of death is suspected to be red tide related. Southwesterly winds last weekend could contribute to more noticeable effects, such as fish kills or respiratory irritation, at the beaches and coastal areas."

It’s important to remember that the red tide bloom is spotty; one stretch of beach may be a sneeze zone, but go a mile or so up or down the coast and it may be toxin-free. A good tip would be to take a walk and find your "perfect" (red tide free) spot.

African dust coming to us soon

Actually, dust from Africa has been a problem for hundreds of years for Floridians. Today, though, it has been the focus of scientists who are not discounting the impact the pesticide-ridden dust may have on our atmosphere.

According to the Tampa Tribune, scientists are finding more and more herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer contained in dust samples that they have found originated in the Sahara Desert.

And a Mote Marine Laboratory researcher has found bacteria that is usually found only in desert environments in sea urchins off Panama.

Could the dust from Africa prompt red tide blooms off Florida? Some scientists haven’t rejected the possibility.

Nonetheless, the dust is a potential human health problem. As a 2004 U.S. Geological Survey report stated, "It is clear that a very diverse population of microorganisms, including fungi, bacteria and viruses is moving vast distances in Earth’s atmosphere, and 20 percent to 30 percent consists of species capable of causing disease in a wide range of organisms, including trees, crop plants and animals."

The Africa-Florida conveyor isn’t the only such dust transfer worldwide. The Nevada area is a source of dust to the northern Pacific ocean and, eventually, Asia. Asia contributes its share of the crud to the Pacific Northwest. South America ships its airborne particles to Australia; that continent passes it along to the islands in the Pacific. And on it goes.

Gas masks, anyone?

Sandscript factoid

It seems the wily octopus has developed a means to literally walk away from trouble.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have noticed that two species of octopi have demonstrated a technique of wrapping six of their arms - legs?  - around their bodies while backing away from bad things on their remaining tentacles.

The researchers told the Associated Press that the critters "looked like a clump of algae tiptoeing away" as they did their little underwater dance.

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