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Date of Issue: September 21, 2006

Sandscript

Global weather shifts amount to fewer storms for us

Everything is different, now it's all the same this week as El Nino and earthquakes top the news - old news back again and a we-hope-not new story about our recent trembler.

 

El Nino back again

Weather experts are saying that we're in the midst of a mild El Nino pattern right now, part of the reason that the projected "very active" hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean has fizzled out.

El Nino is a weather phenomenon that begins in the eastern Pacific Ocean and has wide-ranging repercussions across the planet. El Nino - it's named after the Christ child, since it usually comes around at Christmas - is a warming of the Pacific Ocean waters and a change in barometric pressure there. When El Nino is in place in the Pacific, upper level winds over the Atlantic tend to shear off the tops of tropical storms, preventing their development into hurricanes.

El Nino also causes warmer winter weather in the United States, and wetter weather in the Southeast.

We went through a very powerful El Nino in 1997-98, actually the strongest ever recorded by meteorologists. For Floridians, it spurred very wet weather, with an unprecedented amount of rainfall drenching Southwest Florida in December, January and February of 1997-98. From September 1997 to April of 1998, Florida received two Presidential Disaster Declarations. A total of 57 counties received the disaster declaration, including Manatee and Sarasota.

Statewide, El Nino back then caused a loss of more than $100 million in current and future crops. Private insured losses caused by the weather phenomenon topped $200 million, and individual and public assistance programs in the wake of the storms resulted in another $193 million. Almost $6 million in housing assistance was provided for 6,000 families, and more than $3 million has been awarded to families and individuals for needs not covered by insurance.

As of late April 1998, there were 46 El Nino-related fatalities and 275 injuries. More than 13,000 homes sustained damage, and more than 5,000 were totally destroyed.

We're talking hurricane-type disasters here, what with flooding and rainfall in the winter.

However, the good news is that El Nino usually tends to diminish Atlantic hurricanes, which is what we've been seeing for the past few months.

And El Nino this year is being classed as a "mild" version of the event.

It's still amazing that what happens in the oceans far, far away from Anna Maria Island - or other climate changes in other parts of the globe, for that matter - have such an impact on our weather.

 

Shakin' out here, boss

Good news is that the Sept. 10 earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico 250 miles or so southwest of the Island didn't do much but shudder a few beds and pictures on the wall. Better news is that the expected aftershocks haven't materialized. Bad news is that it's not too soon to be breathing sighs of relief, since more could indeed be in our future.

But the federal earthquake gang is for the most part blowing out the sub-strata blow-up, stating that's it was such an abnormality that it doesn't really warrant any further study.

Florida has had earthquakes before, but they've been few and far between. We're not all that similar to California, which rests on some tectonic-plate fault lines, but instead lie on a pretty dormant area of the earth's crust which doesn't twitch all that much. Think an occasional belch, not a seizure.

However, the 6.0 Richter Scale readings from the 10:56 a.m. quake was enough to rattle windows and cause some concern. That concern was added to after some experts said they did indeed expect aftershocks to occur. We've missed those to date.

And no tsunami, either, since the Gulf is pretty much benign - and flat - when it comes to deep-ocean landslides which seem to spawn the devastating tidal waves.

Cause of the quake is still mostly unknown, and probably never will be because it was such an unusual occurrence, but it's thought that there was some kind of burp in some million-year-old fault lines.

Bless you, Mother Earth. And, please, don't make us excuse you again.

 

Going green on the water

There's been quite a bit of news of late regarding alternative fuel sources. Tallahassee now has the state's first ethanol fuel pump, which Gov. Jeb Bush touted last week as the wave of the future for clean-burning vehicles.

And now there is a boat that utilizes a new fuel source.

According to MSNBC, Peter Bethune of Seattle has built a $2.5 million boat that he hopes will break the speed record on water, and his 78-foot boat runs on biodiesel, "a cleaner alternative to diesel that can be made from soybeans, used vegetable oil and even animal fat," according to the news source. 

The boat has a 540-hp engine and a needlenose prow that rams through waves rather than going over them. The design allows for a more constant speed, Bethune figures.

Biodiesel is something of a trade-off from regular fuels. It's got a slightly higher nitrogen-oxide emission rate than diesel or gasoline, but has lower particulate and carbon dioxide emissions.

 

Sandscript factoid

Jean Heller of the St. Petersburg Times reported last week that there are seven major and six minor fault lines in the earth's crust, the areas that tend to be the source of earthquakes.

The Sept. 10 earthquake in the Gulf wasn't near any of them.

The faults shift as the plates that compose the earth's crust move. The movement tends to rub the planet the wrong way at times, hence the earth's shaking.

And the movement is pretty slow, about the same rate as one's fingernails grow in a year. That movement rate may not sound like much, but when you factor in the zillions of tons of mass involved that are stretched out for thousands of miles, you're talking some pretty significant stress potentials.

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