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A visit to ground zero of Hurricane Charley

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.

Jeff Masters
Mangrove damage from Hurricane Charley
Mangrove damage from Hurricane Charley
Two years after Charley stuck Cayo Costa Island, FL, with 150 mph winds, the mangrove trees still show extensive damage.
Palm tree damage from Hurricane Charley
Palm tree damage from Hurricane Charley
Mostly, though, it's hard to tell a Cat-4 hurricane moved over the island, two years after Hurricane Charley.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Charleys landfall radar Loop..Link
Dr. Masters...this is why we put up with the hurricanes....nice weather in November thru March...glad you had a nice time in Florida.
Love the hat! :-)
NHC review identifies a 10th Atlantic tropical storm in 2006
hey dr m is that you in the 2nd photo?
2004 was certainly a witch hunt on the Australian pines. Origanally planted, back in the days of sailing, they make great masts. They aren't at all invasive like the Bazillian pepper. They just hang out in stands where they were planted with no thoughts of taking over the world. In reality the drought of '97-'98 killed many more including entire stands where the 'canes, just knocked a few down. All in all they faired as well as the pine tree. I think alot of their bad wrap came from people anywhere near them during the hurricanes. I've heard them in a good storm & they are loud in wind. The desriptions from friends that went through Frances in a house next to them was along the lines of unbearable screaming that would scare one to death & drive you out of your mind. Though them, the house & the trees faired well in Frances, come Jeanne they left just so they wouldn't have to put up with scary noise of the Australian pines.
Thank you Dr Masters...Mother Nature seems to have every thing under control and knows how to bounce back quickly. It's man who has the hard time doing so, just look to the Gulf for that.
Link to unnamed storm TCR

45 kts, 998 mb at peak and lasted for one day (July 17th to July 18th, right before Beryl formed; many people said that the NHC should have named it then).
Here is a picture of the unnamed storm (determined to be fully tropical):

STL i was on the maps when i saw this one i was realy upset it didnt get named Beryl. I cant ever help but to wonder what if, last year hurricane season embarrased them so much they held off a lot of storms this year.
Glad you had a good vacation in Florida Dr. Masters :) I can't wait to hear your thoughts about the ice cap!
The Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans.The Lead story in the TimesLink-Picayune today.
CB~ The area of rain on the east side of the Bahamas is under ~55kts of shear.
"BTW Cabbage Palms" are edible, and the "Seagrapes" are as sweet as any grape you will ever buy when ripe!"

Why does this sound like an "I'm Eule Gibbons, I eat pine cones for breakfast," moment? :-)
we had 111mph wind gusts here by UCF. there was a lot of damage just east of orlando. no power for 7 days, you know the story....
In North America the main species are three of the pinyon pines, Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis), Single-leaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides). The other eight pinyon species are used to a small extent, as are Gray Pine (Pinus sabineana), Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) and Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana).

Pine nuts contain about 31 grams of protein per 100 grams of nuts, the highest of any nut or seed. Pine nuts have been eaten in Europe and Asia since the Paleolithic period. They are also a source of dietary fibre. Pine nuts are an essential component of pesto, and are frequently added to meat, fish, and vegetable dishes.
DO NOT eat the cabbage palms. It is illegal in FL to eat them. Because cabbage palm is a state tree, it is protected. They are also important to the environment.
the cabbage is also known as "swamp cabbage"

Swamp cabbage is an old-time Florida cracker favorite vegetable obtained from the heart of the cabbage palm (S. palmetto), which is the official state tree of Florida. The plant is known by such other names as palmetto palm, sabal palm, and swamp cabbage tree.

The cabbage palm grows wild all over the state in such abundance that it is not cultivated for harvest as a vegetable. Cabbage palms grow as individual plants scattered across the horizon, or thickly clustered together in hammocks. They are greatly valued as ornamental trees both for home and industrial landscaping. Most nurseries sell them in various sizes and shapes, deliver them, and set them in place for around $100.00.

Although the swamp cabbage tree grows wild, it is protected from indiscriminate cutting by its designation as Florida's state tree. Yet, large numbers of swamp cabbage are cut and sold each year, mostly as a prelude to land-clearing operations.
This next recipe comes from the Seminole Indians.

Swamp Cabbage

(common cabbage palmetto or sabel palm)

Cut out the heart of a cabbage palm. Strip off the boot or outer hard tough fronds to reach the actual white heart. This is more tender and should be cut into 1/2-inch strips or cubes. Cook slowly in very little water from 20 to 30 minutes, adding 2 tablespoons of cane syrup and salt to taste. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add 1/4 cup cooking oil for more flavor.
Charley still had substantial power when it got here 175 miles inland. The spotty damage, worst over a 6-8 mile wide track, had signs of pockets of destruction similar to what Dr. M saw out on the island. There were "footprints" out in a sheltered area of woods that looked like a big foot came down & flattened about a 1/4 acre of oaks (they usually bounce well). Lots of little vortices & microbursts - hit or miss. The straight line winds snapped off many soft Loblolly ((Pinus taeda) (mistakenly called sand pines locally) & we used the opportunity to remove many more of this native "invasive" (nusiance)species (to the chagrin of local "pine nuts"). These pines are too tall, too soft, and burn too hot - they cause big problems in an urban interface environment. Of course new desirable trees were planted.
Hello all. Skyepony, you there ?
Great blog Dr. Masters. I guess nature can't be defeated by such powerful storms after all! Here in Orlando, much of the tree damage was never cleared up and disposed of because of the extent of it, so even now, anyone that visits can still see how bad Charley was even 140 miles inland, especially in the more rural areas of town. In fact, until a few months ago, some residencies still had blue tarps and roof damage from Charley that was clearly visible. It certainly was a very unique storm, because it held much of its pure wind strength all the way across the peninsula due to the many small vorticies inside of it. I like to think of Charley as a huge severe thunderstorm and not a hurricane, because the destruction caused by the storm so far inland was unlike any other hurricane I had ever seen (apart, maybe, from Andrew).
On a tangent...
Greenhouse Gas Good for Some Trees (like Loblolly Pines) Link
atmosweather did you get my e mail or see my link in your blog commet me in my blog
Charley, blew through here & took out most the plastic signs in Melbourne, also saw two cement fences down, both within a 1/2 mile of here. I was vacationing at the time.

HIEXPRESS~ "the pine nuts" atleast in Brevard were mostly just upset the money wasn't used to erradicate Brazilian Pepper trees. Taking big trees, like those pines, that are close to buildings is a good idea anyways. But as far as the random out of the way stand, the droughts & the storms has made it impossible for them to really thrive.

Those huge trees that drop seeds in black pods that looks just like an ear, the nieghborhood lost 10 out of 12 to Frances.

There is also a type of palm that grows incrediably high, some friends had their's removed after Frances because they "layed down" during the storm, at one point next to the house. If the wind had been coming from a slightly diferent direction the trees would have been napping in the bedroom.

...someone say "swamp cabbage"....uuummmm, and btw it smells, too! lol

H A P P Y H O L I D A Y S, ALL!!!
Pottery~ For a moment, You see the post I left you on the end of the last blog?
LMAO Cowboy.
Hey, Rand! How's it going? All good here, busy holidays, and dodging the real cold, then a day later 75 degrees, some weather for sure. But, okay I guess. Hate that about the climbers at Mt. Hood. Sure has been a tough rescue effort!!! Those guys have had an incredible job to do. I'm sorry for their families!

Hope all is good with you and your family and your holidays are merry and "bright", too!
CB that looks like them. The town had alot less after Jeanne.
I updated about the expected weekly weather in Florida, and possibility for a vigorous front on(also on my blog)

Florida Weather
Yeah, Cowboy. Latest reports are that probably the other two have fallen to their deaths on the mountain. Not confirmed yet. Rotten outcome if that is true.
Hope you have a teriffic holiday also.
We faired extremely well during Charley in Cape Coral. My anemometer on the roof read a peak gust of 135 with a average of 115 during the worst. We didn't even lose a roof tile. Hooray for freshly built CBS housing.

The worst part of the storm was my inlaws calling up and panicking and screaming at us that we needed to evacuate. Of course, when they called, the eye was just coming on shore 20 miles away...not the right time to evacuate.
Skyepony....in case we miss each other again. Thank you, yes I saw the post. good one too. Its people like you with your links at the drop of a hat, that are Time Magazine PEOPLE OF THE YEAR. thanks agaun.......
We were at a local hospital in Port Charlotte during the storm and the building next door had an anemometer on the roof which registered 174mph during the height of the hurricane. The wing of the commercial hospital we were in suffered severe damage. Sections of roof were missing ceiling tiles all gone, drywall crumbled from water damage and about six inches of water on the floor. Port Charlotte and neighboring Punta Gorda still show some of Charley's scars but the relief workers, construction crews and other have done an amazing job cleaning up.
Its a good thing to see all the folks posting about their storm experiences.Lots to be learned by others hearing the word from a fellow Blogger.Lotsa info can be shared.
well with 10 systems that makes 2006 very close to an average season.
Here we go again, looks like christmas could be very wet here in S, FLORIDA listen to what the FORECAST DISCUSSION reads:EXTENDED FORECAST...THURSDAY THROUGH CHRISTMAS DAY...THIS IS
Metro France: RSMC La Reunion

Moderate Tropical Storm
11.0S 60.4E -- 40 knots 992 hPa

Moderate Tropical Storm Bondo has sustained winds of 40 knots with gusts of 56 knots.

Storm Warning
Tempete tropicale moderee Bondo is located 1215 km north-northeast of La Reunion and is reported moving west at 11 knots.

Next tropical advisory at 6:30 am Tuesday
Hello and happy holidays all! I hope all of you are in good health as well as all people you know.

Could anyone tell me where I can find the long range forcast for my area? I Live in Central California in the Bay Area. THanks. We have a freeze warning for tonight!!!! BOO YEA!!! Could get down to 15-16 degrees tonight. Coldest I've seen it at my house here is 17-18 - Could push it!!!!

See ya
Peace On Earth
Hello.... I've been reading the entries here over the last few days, and on Margie K's blog, and looking at good links posted by lots of people. On the subject of , and the sometimes acrimonious discussion on Global Warming, I have this to say..The ONLY real info that we have is that the Earth is heating up NOW, and co2 levels are exceeding high NOW. All the other info is subject to interpretation. While we await " further study " to relate historical data to this instant, would it not be wise to try to prevent further damage, just in case ???????????
I thought that the storm that flooded the northeast in late June was more of a tropical storm than this one.
Trooper, check out CPC. They have a 6-10 day forecast, 8-14 day forecast, one month forecast, and three month forecast, for temp and precip, for the US.

The problem is, we can restrict emmisions of C02 globally with the kyoto protocal to virtually nothing..cough-cough*would never happen*cough-cough*(wreaking economic havoc across the world aswell) and spend tons of money scrubbing C02 from the air to pre-industrialization level, but what happens if the globe continues to warm? We just spent trillions of dollars, maybe quadrillions, to stop climate change and all we done is wreak havoc aroun the world. The money would be better spent helping poor nations develope the infrastructure to move water and food to places that may need it and bring thier technology up to a level so they can produce the same amount with poorer conditions. Because, if global warming is going to occur as the doomsdayers say(I doubt it myself) it will be the poor that suffer the worse while the ones with money will probably easily survive.

BTW, dont get me wrong. I am in support for getting away from carbon based fuels and reducing our global impact as a whole. I just dont believe that C02 is the direct correlation to a warmer world. There are so many other variables that this planet must incorperate, many of which we probably dont know about. I find it hard to believe that one single variable can have such a dramatic effect.
Hi all,
Dr. Jeff, I have been reading your blogs and frequenting this site for at least two years now, and love this site!!! But, I just wanted to clarify that palms are NOT TREES! They are GRASSES. Monocots, not dicots. Palms may look like trees, but they are not. I hope that ya'll don't feel like I'm being picky, and will provide links if necessary. Just dealing with a pet peeve of mine!
I am not sure that one can handle tree vs. grass with the monocot-dicot distinction. Pine trees are neither monocot nor dicot. Then there are tree ferns. I think a broken palm, er, tree counts as tree damage.

My source.
Great link bappit, thank you for the info! I love learning more about plant bio. Maybe I shouldn't have gotten so specific. However, one cannot dispute ...Palms are grasses, not trees...

here's some info for any who are interested
HurricaneMyles says:

I find it hard to believe that one single variable can have such a dramatic effect.

It would seem then that CO2 is analogous to a poison. For instance, .2 milligrams of ricin will kill the average human. Interestingly ricin is made of two distinct proteins bound together. One of these proteins is common in barley and has no effect by itself. It is indeed amazing that with the right combination of circumstances that a substance can have such profound consequences for natural processes.

But, wait, we have to have CO2 in the atmosphere to survive. Well, selenium is a deadly poison, but we require about 55 micrograms a day. Life is strange.

Wikipedia articles are my sources.
Ha! Got the following ad when I searched on cyanide.

Great deals on Cyanide Shop on eBay and Save! - www.eBay.com
But, wait, we have to have CO2 in the atmosphere to survive. Well, selenium is a deadly poison, but we require about 55 micrograms a day. Life is strange.

Everything is toxic when in excess... even water.
Don't know if it was already posted or not, but the National Hurricane Center added a 10th tropical storm to the records. The storm formed on July 17, 2006 offshore of the United States and Nova Scotia.

To read more about the storm, click here.
kylejourdan2006 long time no see how it been going? come to my blog
I posted an image of the unnamed storm on the previous page (taken by Dr. Masters).
64. Inyo
it is true, palms are not technically grasses, as they are not in the grass family ( Poaceae ). They are more closely related to grasses than they are to say, oak or pine trees. However, 'tree' is not a technical term and really applies to any big plant. Palms are palms, plain and simple.

Trouper, I've been watching the 15 day GFS lately and heck, it changes every run. The long rain forecast is very much in question, though i think the bay area is due for a few more moderate sized storms in the next 15 days
Somebody bonk this guy over the head with a coconut, then apologize and say you were just throwing grass seed.
wow Bondo just keeps intensing

Metro France
Severe Tropical Storm
60 knots 976 hPa

forecasted to become an intense tropical cyclone in 48 hours

radar has this storm with a visible eye.

Bondo is a tropical cyclone now:

Bondo is now forecast to hit Category 5 within 24 hours...

105 kts, 938 mb