Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:09 PM GMT on December 18, 2006
November is a great time to take a Florida vacation. Michigan is horribly grey and cold and dark, and I am always ready for a break after a long hurricane season. This November, I vacationed in one of my favorite haunts, Cayo Costa State Park in Florida. The park is located on an undeveloped barrier island offshore from North Fort Myers, and is reachable only by boat. It was here that Hurricane Charley made its initial landfall in 2004 at 2:45pm EDT 13 August. Charley was a ferocious Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph and a storm surge of at least 7 feet, and was the second most destructive hurricane in history at that time. I expected to see a complete transformation of the island, given the incredible power of this hurricane.
As we approached the island on the Tropic Star ferry boat, I could see considerable evidence of damage to the bay side mangrove trees. Up to 50% of the mangrove trees had been uprooted and killed, leaving large tangles of dead wood along the shore. However, there was plenty of live mangroves, and the bird life seemed as plentiful as I remembered from years past. After we landed and we started piling our camping gear into the shuttle that would take us to our primitive cabin on the Gulf side, I noted that there was no sign Charley had hit, other then a few clumps of dead mangroves along the shore. The native Florida cabbage palms, sea grapes, and other vegetation all looked intact, and the island was impressively green. I was very curious to see what the other side looked like. As we rode over, the ranger informed me that only two of the 20 or so cabins on the island had been destroyed by Charley, although the storm surge had flooded all of them. Almost all of the huge Australian pine trees had been snapped off, he told me, and the rest had been chopped down since they were non-native invasives, anyway. As we arrived, I was surprised to see that other than the missing Australian pines, the place was just as I remembered it. The native vegetation has withstood the hurricane remarkably well, and there were just a few palm trees missing their tops that one could identify as storm victims. The lesson here: natural systems are well equipped to withstand and bounce back from the ravages of mighty hurricanes. Humans would do well to learn the lessons from past storms and do the same!
My next blog will be Tuesday or Wednesday, when I plan to discuss the shrinkage of the Arctic Ice Cap.
Comments will take a few seconds to appear.