Stories of Katrina, deep ocean critters, wacky fish parade
The stories and photographs of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's landfall have been horrific. Images that are more common from Third-World countries have been produced from one of the most fashionable cities in the United States as residents of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana try to survive one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to have struck the country.
Former Islander Joe Bird moved to Jackson, Miss., late last year with his wife Susan and twin sons Rowan and Gavin. He offered the following account of what he had to go through. As he put it, "It may be too melodramatic, or stream of unconsciousness, but what the hell - as a writer, I make a really good graphics guy." Joe, by the way, is a graphic artist specializing in electronic media.
I feel somewhat sheepish. Here I am, typing away at my computer, in the relative comfort of my air conditioned home. I'm in Mississippi, right after Katrina punished the Northern Gulf Coast with a massive Category 4 hurricane.
Here's the thing: I'm approximately 165 miles north of the Gulf Coast, usually a safe distance from the wrath of hurricane mayhem. Jackson, Mississippi's capital city, took a pretty good hit from Katrina. In Jackson, three deaths are blamed on the storm, one from a falling tree that hit a woman as she sat in her home. This is particularly disturbing, as she was following the official guidance from local authorities, who advised, "stay home, don't travel."
Initial estimates claimed a 98-percent power outage in the metro area. Thus, the sheepish feeling.
Last night, on a walking tour of the adjacent neighborhood, I observed at least three large trees felled per block. Most of them cleverly sought out power lines, cars or homes. People this far north are suffering silently. They know that their neighbors to the south are enduring a Dante-esque hell of death, destruction and heat.
Locally, refugees crowd local shelters, gas is unavailable, and the light at the end of the tunnel is on a power truck.
How did I end up in the enviable state of having power and creature comforts when so many suffer? For one, I live in a relatively new neighborhood with all underground utilities. This feature, combined with a large electrical substation about three quarters of a mile away, kept the power on through hurricane-force winds. We've been hosting many house guests, mostly relatives.
Being a former Islander, I was used to the pre-hurricane drill. Get the water, batteries, ice, canned foods, etc. Even though I was spared, the prep work paid off. Fueling up the vehicles now seems a stroke of genius. Water, the bottled variety, is now as valuable as gas. You see, pretty much the entire state is under a boil-water advisory. I'm not gloating about my good fortune, but as it relates to preparedness, a few simple things can make your own and other's lives more endurable under some pretty bad circumstances.
Do what is advised as far as stockpiles, heed all notices and never underestimate Mother Nature.
The people of the Northern Gulf Coast desperately need your help. Monetary donations are the best way you can assist. Please seek out a reputable charity, like the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, and give today.
The Red Cross may be reached at (800) HELP-NOW. You can also drop off bottled water, baby items, non-perishable food and personal hygiene products to the West Manatee Fire and Rescue district Fire Station No. 1 up to Friday. Firefighters are going to Hancock County, Mississippi, to hand-deliver relief supplies. Fire Station No. 1 is at 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.
Hurricane Katrina doesn't appear to be the finale of the 2005 hurricane season. Colorado State University's Dr. William Gray has predicted five named storms, four of them reaching hurricane status and two of them for September alone being severe.
September is the most active month for Atlantic Ocean hurricanes.
October could see three named storms, two becoming hurricanes and one being major, Gray and his team of hurricane forecasters have said.
To further add to the grief, Gray has said that those numbers indicate that there is a 43-percent chance that an intense hurricane will hit the States in September, with a 15-percent for October. The long-term average is 27 percent in September, 6 percent in October.
"We've already had 110-percent of the average season through August," Gray told the Associated Press, "and you're only 40-percent of the way through the season."
Gray updated his forecasts on Sept. 1 for the rest of the year. He and his team have been offering hurricane predictions for more than 25 years with - unfortunately - a very, very high degree of accuracy.
Hot, hot baby
If you too have been thinking that it's been extremely hot of late, you're right.
According to Mark Zaloudek of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the National Weather Service in Ruskin has determined that July-August 2005 are the hottest recorded in the Tampa Bay area in the past 115 years that records have been kept.
We've had a bit of a break here south of the Tampa crowd, but even our temperatures have been really up there, ranking No. 3 in the 60 years records have been maintained at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
You may think that the July average of 1.4 degrees warmer than usual isn't all that much, but in the world of weather, that's a lot. And August's 1.8-degree above-average reading is even more significant.
It's not that the high highs have been, well, all that high that's contributed to the heat wave, but the fact that the low temperatures haven't bottomed out anywhere near normal. In fact, there have only been two days in the past two months where the overnight low was "normal," with all the rest soaring.
Ah, summer in Florida! Ya gotta love it.
Too weird: Fish tale No. 1
Gavin Off and Stephen Bauman of the Charlotte Sun-Herald have reported one of the strangest events seen in the fish world of late - or maybe ever.
Seems that there was something of a "fish parade" off the beaches of Englewood Aug. 25.
"The fish were moving in a narrow band in about 18 inches of water, going south in the Gulf, and stretched for about a mile," according to the newspaper. "Included in the swarm were clouds of shrimp, blue crab, grouper, snapper, redfish and flounder. They were joined by more usual species, including sea robins, needlefish and eels."
There were "thousands and thousands of them," according to one resident.
According to some scientists, it could have been a predator-avoidance technique, although there were no signs of sharks in the water near the fish.
It could have been spurred by a red tide avoidance tactic too, although no red tide was noticed by beachgoers in the region. Some scientists said there could be a "stealth" red tide moving in an offshore current that the critters detected and decided to get ahead of the bloom.
And don't forget that Hurricane Katrina was moving across the state that day, and perhaps the low pressure had something to do with the fish migration - although that theory loses credence when you take into account that the critters were moving toward the storm, not away from it.
Weird fish tales, No. 2
Despite having to dodge and dive out of Hurricane Katrina's path, a group of scientists made it back to port last weekend with results of a deep-water expedition into the Gulf. The findings were pretty spectacular.
"The group has discovered a mysterious visual capability in a deep-sea crab; captured new video of a large, recently discovered squid species; and took clear video of the world's first known fluorescent shark," according to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce.
The researchers, using a deep-diving submersible craft capable of reaching 3,000 feet down, targeted a coral mount 200 miles west of Tampa and another about 140 miles south of New Orleans.
Chief Scientist Tammy Frank, a visual ecologist from Harbor Branch, has been working with animals collected in special light-tight devices that avoid damage to delicate deep-sea eyes. She found a species of deep-sea crab that can detect ultraviolet light, despite there being no known ultraviolet light in deep water.
"The reasons for this seemingly bizarre ability are not clear, but the sensitivity could point to a deep-sea light source about which researchers are not aware, or to some unknown characteristic of known light sources such as bioluminescence - the light chemically produced by countless open ocean organisms," according to Harbor Branch.
Last year, on a similar trip to the deep Gulf, scientists found a 6-foot-long squid believed to be a new species. "This year, at a site hundreds of miles away, an underwater camera with special low-light capabilities caught footage of what appears to be the same species, which would suggest that the squid is not rare, and would also illustrate how poorly explored the deep sea remains if such a large animal could have gone undiscovered," Harbor Branch scientists said.
And about that glowing shark ...
Mike Matz, of the University of Florida's Whitney Laboratory in St. Augustine, used powerful lights in front of the submersible to catch sight of glowing critters of the deep. He and others caught a glimpse of what was believed to be the first-ever fluorescent shark last year, but the images weren't all that clear. This year, Matz "was ecstatic when he came upon a shark kind enough to rest on the bottom in front of the sub, allowing him to record incredible video footage of the animal's intricate fluorescent pattern."
There's lots of weird stuff out there.
Even the usually refreshing waters of the Gulf of Mexico aren't much help in cooling anyone off from the heat wave. Water temps have been hovering around the 90-degree mark in the past few weeks.