JUST IN: New Lake O satellite image of blue-green algae

Extent of cyanobacteria on Lake Okeechobee as seen July 26, 2018 by infrared satellite images from the Sentinel-3a operated by the EU Meterological Satellite Office.

The blue-green algae coverage on Lake Okeechobee remains at about 30 percent as seen in the latest satellite image released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Thursday image is the first clear one of the bloom since July 18 when 30 percent of the lake was also covered. That’s down from July 2 when 90 percent of the lake was showing a bloom.

RELATED: Quick fix to Lake O algae woes uses land now used by cows

Sachi Mishra, satellite oceanographer with NOAA, said partial images taken July 22 and 25 show the bloom covering just 10 percent and 20 percent of the lake respectively.

Despite the increase to 30 percent in the Thursday image, Mishra said scientists believe the bloom is receding.

Richard Stumpf, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who is monitoring the Lake Okeechobee bloom, said last week the 30 percent coverage looked “promising.”

A sign posted by Martin County Health Department warns to avoid contact with blue-green algae near the Port Mayaca locks on June 12, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“I will need to add that we are dealing with a live organism in a complex environment, so while we hope we are past the peak, there is not enough known to say whether the bloom will stay down or regrow,” Stumpf said.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Thursday it will cut Lake Okeechobee flows into the St. Lucie Estuary by 35 percent, and reduce discharges by 32 percent into the Caloosahatchee River.

The freshwater flushes weaken salinity levels in the estuaries and introduce blue-green algae that can grow into widespread toxic blooms.

Thursday’s announcement came after Florida Sportsman Magazine temporarily closed its Stuart office this week when employees were sickened by algae fumes, and as a top U.S. Department of Interior official took notice of South Florida’s water dilemma.

Read more here about a heated exchange in Washington, D.C. over the algae issue in South Florida that occurred this week. 

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JUST IN: Storms closing in on Wellington, West Palm, Palm Beach Gardens

A significant weather advisory has been issued for Central Palm Beach County as thunderstorms are tracked near South Bay moving east at 20 mph.

Wind gusts up to 50 mph and funnel clouds are possible with this storm.

Cities affected include Wellington, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Belle Galde, South Bay and Royal Palm Beach.

The advisory is in effect until 3 p.m.

Check The Palm Beach Post’s live radar map

Previous story: Palm Beach County was thrashed by a deluge of showers and rapid-fire lightning Sunday as a rush of rain cooled air from thunderstorms north of Lake Okeechobee clashed between themselves and afternoon sea breezes.

Robert Molleda, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said in just a 2-hour period between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday an estimated 2,500 lightning strikes hit Palm Beach County.

“I would say certainly, that’s a lot and a lot more than your average thunderstorm day,” Molleda said.

The National Weather Service is compiling rain totals from stations throughout South Florida and should have those ready before 11 a.m.

The official weather gauge at the Palm Beach International Airport does not tell the full story.

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

Although it recorded wind gusts as high as 30 mph, the airport rain gauge reads that just 0.65 inches of rain fell Sunday. I live about a mile from the airport and my rain gauge collected 2.5 inches.

South Florida Water Management District measurements were as high as 2.29 at the Corbett Wildlife Management Area in western Palm Beach County.

Below are some other measurements:

Jupiter, 1.47

Jupiter Farms, 1.34

North Palm Beach, 1.33

Royal Palm Beach, 1.30

Forest Hill School, 0.85

Boynton Beach, 0.55

Delray Beach, 0.60

Arlena Moses, a meteorologist with the NWS in Miami, said the storms focused on Palm Beach County as the outflow boundary from stronger systems to the north rushed into the area.

Check The Palm Beach Post’s live radar map

An outflow boundary is a flush of rain-cooled air that spreads across the land like a flood. They can interact with each other, forcing more storms to develop, or can intercept other boundaries such as South Florida’s familiar afternoon sea breezes.

Rain totals in the Kissimmee basin north of Lake Okeechobee were nearly 3 inches in many areas as the storms rolled through. It was an unusual situation for South Florida to see during this time of year when a low pressure system pushes a trough into the Sunshine State.

Weather map valid for 1 p.m. today.

Moses does not think today’s storms will be as robust as what was experienced Sunday, but the Storm Prediction Center does have Palm Beach County at a marginal risk for severe weather.

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Palm Beach County residents fear loss of favorite beach after new access law

Oceantree condominium on Singer Islands marks its beach with signs on July 20, 2018.

Some Singer Island residents fear they are losing access to their favorite beach following a new law that requires judicial approval to keep a privately-owned swath of sand open to the public.

The statute, which went into effect July 1, says local governments must get a judge’s approval to enforce a rare “customary use” law that refers to the general right of the public to use dry sand areas in Florida for recreation.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said it simply spells out a process for municipalities to follow to keep beaches open to the public rather than making up their own rules when a private beach owner wants to restrict access.

But the law has caused widespread confusion and angst, forcing Gov. Rick Scott to issue an executive order urging state attorneys “to protect Floridians’ constitutional rights to beach access” and doing one thing opponents feared most — emboldening private beach owners to cut off the public.

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Nancy Sweeney, who owns a condominium on the west side of Singer Island’s Ocean Drive, said since 1996 she has used a well-worn path between Marriott’s Oceana Palms hotel and the under-construction Amrit Ocean Resort to get to the beach.

Property records show there is a 99-year lease on a 7.5-foot-wide easement for public beach access, but whether the beach is open to the public once people get there is less clear.

“One of my neighbors went down…READ THE REST OF THE STORY AT MYPALMBEACHPOST.COM and find out which Palm Beach County beach is already heavily patrolled to keep the public from planting their umbrellas in the sand. 

Private beach owners can restrict access to sand landward of the mean high tide line, while the public has access to “wet” sand seaward of the mean high tide line. This has always been the case in Florida, but a new law is bringing more attention to the private vs. public beach issue.

The El Niño forecast has changed, what it means for hurricane season

Tropical Storm Chris on June 10, 2018.

An El Niño watch issued last month will continue after the latest forecast for the global climate pattern increased its chances of appearing this fall or winter.

The Climate Prediction Center is now forecasting a 65 percent chance El Niño conditions will be in place by the fall, and up to a 70 percent chance by winter.

That’s up from a June forecast that predicted a 50 percent chance of a fall arrival, and 65 percent chance of a winter arrival.

For Florida, the periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean can mean a less active hurricane season with fewer powerhouse Cat 5 tropical cyclones.

But it also leans toward stormier days during the darkest part of the year when the Sunshine State typically enjoys its dry season.

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“The issue for the hurricanes is does El Niño develop in time and with sufficient strength to suppress the later part of the season,” said Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a June interview. “Conditions are evolving more toward an El Niño right now, but there is still a long way to go.”

Typical El Nino influence.

 

Hurricane researchers are considering El Niño in their updated forecasts.

NOAA’s May 24 hurricane forecast for this season called for between 10 and 16 named storms, five to nine hurricanes and up to four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

An average hurricane season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

Bell said the low end of the NOAA forecast reflects the idea that El Niño was a possibility but that the clues weren’t strong enough in May to base the prediction on it.

Colorado State University reduced its July 1 forecast to 11 named storms, four hurricanes and one major hurricane of Category 3 or higher.

The team’s start-of-season forecast on May 31 had called for 14, six and two, respectively. The historical average is 12, 6 1/2, and two. The 2017 season saw 17, 10 and 6.

Phil Klotzbach, CSU hurricane researcher and lead writer of the forecast, said an unusually cool tropical Atlantic, paired with the possibility of a weak El Niño led to the reduced forecast.

“A colder than normal tropical Atlantic provides less fuel for developing tropical cyclones but also tends to be associated with higher pressure and a more stable atmosphere,” CSU’s July 1 forecast notes. “These conditions tend to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity.”

RELATED: How El Nino boosts winter storms in Florida.

The onset of El Niño occurs in tandem with the relaxation of the trade winds – those Earth-skimming easterlies that have guided sailing ships across the world’s oceans for centuries.

With the trade winds reduced, warm water that has piled up in the western Pacific Ocean and around Indonesia rushes back toward the east. That movement of warm water shifts rainfall patterns and the formation of deep tropical thunderstorms. The exploding storms whose cloud tops can touch the jet stream disrupt upper air patterns so winds come more out of the west.

This GOES-East infrared image shows the remnants of Beryl in the lower right west of Puerto Rico with Chris off the coast of the Carolinas on July 9, 2018.

The west winds create shear in the Atlantic, which can be deadly to budding hurricanes.

Still, with three named storms, including two hurricanes – Beryl and Chris – already come and gone, this season is coming out of the gate strong.

On average, there are only 1.3 named storms through July 17 and no hurricanes, according to CSU.

Related: Watch funeral for the Godzilla El Nino 

Also, accumulated cyclone energy this season stands at 14.4 when the average for this time of year is 5.1. Accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, is a way to measure the strength and longevity of tropical cyclones.

“So in terms of ACE, we are at 326% of normal activity for the date,” said University of Miami senior research associate Brian McNoldy in a column last week. “Another way to frame it is that the ACE is currently what it climatologically would be on August 14. And as I mentioned yesterday, the last time we had two hurricanes so early in the season was 2005.”

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Toxins in algae at ‘dangerous’ levels, expert says

The decision Thursday to restart Lake Okeechobee releases after a temporary respite was expected, but it comes as toxicity levels in the algae are testing in amounts that one expert called “dangerous.”

An algae sample taken July 5 at the St. Lucie Lock near Phipps Park in Stuart was returned Tuesday with toxin levels of 154 micrograms per liter — 15 times higher than what the World Health Organization considers low risk. Earlier samples from the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County were even higher at 463 micrograms per liter and 308 micrograms per liter.

Anything over 20 micrograms per liter is considered a “high risk for acute health effects.”

“Yes, that is dangerous,” said Kathleen Rein, a professor in Florida International University’s Department of Chemistry. “People should definitely not be swimming in that. Stay away from it. Don’t let your pets drink the water.”

RELATED: White House approve massive reservoir to hold Lake O overflow

Rein said acute liver failure is a worst-case scenario from swimming in or drinking toxic algae-laced water. But rashes, respiratory problems and nausea also are linked to toxic algae.

This June 28 picture was posted on the Calusa Waterkeeper Facebook page with this caption: Just back from the Franklin Lock beach. Roped off and closed yesterday but apparently not today. Kids swimming in the bloom infested water. I guess the 8.5×11 inch notice didn’t get noticed. This is becoming a replay of the chaos with public notification that occurred during the 2016 bloom.

Most water samples testing positive for toxins higher than the 20 micrograms per liter are from the Caloosahatchee River where releases were only paused four days this week. The St. Lucie had a longer respite of 14 days.

High-risk toxin levels ranging from 25 to 62, in addition to the two triple digit-level test have come back on the Caloosahatchee side in Lee and Glades counties.

RELATED: Why drain Lake O? One tropical system could push it over the edge

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection conducts the testing, which can take 3 to 5 days.

“Residents are put at risk over the weekends while the Florida Department of Helath waits on results from FDEP,” said John Cassani, whose group Calusa Waterkeeper is a member of the national nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance. “Seemingly no real strategy on (DEP’s) part.”

The Corps began releasing water from Lake Okeechobee on June 1 following Florida’s rainiest May on record. To protect Glades-area communities from flooding if the dike were to fail, the Corps likes to keep the lake level between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level. During the rainy season — when one tropical system could raise the lake three feet in a month — the lower end of the scale is preferred.

A Great Blue Herion stands by blue-green algae on the shores of Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, Florida, July 10, 2018. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for DEP, said there is frequent discussion among groups dealing with the algae issue, and that DEP loads its information into the Department of Health’s Caspio database for its review.

“It is DOH that takes the lead in determining if a harmful algal bloom presents a risk to human health,” she said. “DOH issues health advisories as it determines to be appropriate when toxicity levels are higher and may also post warning signs when blooms affect public beaches or other areas where there is the risk of human exposure.”

On Thursday, Lake Okeechobee stood at 14.48 feet above sea level. That’s two feet higher than it was at this time in 2017, and the third highest level for the same time period in the past 11 years.

The highest the lake has been was …Read the full story on MYPALMBEACHPOST.COM and find out why a swollen Lake Okeechobee is a no-win situation for everyone involved, including the lake. 

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Hurricane Chris forms off N.C. coast, strengthens to Category 2

UPDATE: At 11 p.m., Chris has rapidly strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane with maximum winds of 105 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It’s about 245 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving northeast at 10 mph.

Additional strengthening is likely tonight and Wednesday morning, forecasters say. After that, Chris is forecast to begin weakening Wednesday night, and the system is expected to become a strong post-tropical cyclone by Thursday night.

Meanwhile, The remnants of Beryl are producing gusty winds and locally heavy rain from Hispaniola and southeastern Cuba northeastward across the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos into the adjacent Atlantic waters.

Little development is expected tonight due to unfavorable upper-level winds. However, the disturbance is expected to turn northward over the western Atlantic on Wednesday, where upper-level winds could become more conducive for the regeneration of a tropical cyclone later this week.

An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft is scheduled to investigate the disturbance Wednesday afternoon, if necessary.

Tropical Storm Chris on June 10, 2018.

UPDATE: Hurricane Chris has formed off the coast of North Carolina.

Chris is the second hurricane of the 2018 storm season.

As of the 5 p.m. advisory, Chris had 85 mph winds. It is expected to top out at 100 mph before going post-tropical within 48 hours.

Chris is not expected to make landfall in the U.S. It is moving northeast at 10 mph and should stay on that track away from the coast.

Previous story: The remnants of Beryl are drifting through the Caribbean still considering a comeback, while indecisive Tropical Storm Chris continues to toy with hurricane strength.

Chris, which is 200 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, had 70 mph winds this morning as of the 5 a.m. advisory and is forecast to reach 80 mph – a Category 1 hurricane – within 12 hours.

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

There are no coastal watches or warnings with Chris, but the National Hurricane Center is advising coastal North Carolina to keep an eye on the meandering storm. It is nearly stationary, moving northeast at just 2 mph.

For South Florida, Chris is already pushing in higher seas with the National Weather Service targeting Palm Beach County for the potential of rip currents worthy of caution. A moderate risk of rip currents is in the forecast through mid-week.

The remnants of Beryl, depicted by the orange X, have a 50 percent chance of reforming into a tropical cyclone over the next five days.

Hurricane hunters overnight identified a 25-nautical mile wide eye in Chris, despite the lack of hurricane-force winds.

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Chris is not expected to make landfall in the U.S., instead heading northeastward off the coast steered by a trough dipping into the northeast from Canada.

According to Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach, the Atlantic basin has had two or more hurricanes by July 10 three times in satellite era (since 1966). Those years were 1966, 1968 and 2005.

While 1966 was active and 2005 was the hyperactive season that brought Wilma to Florida, 1968 was quiet, Klotzbach said.

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Meandering Chris could become hurricane today; what it means for South Florida

UPDATE: As of 5 a.m.. Chris is still a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph as it sits stationary around 200 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. It’s expected to become a hurricane on Tuesday.

A northeastward motion should begin on Tuesday, and Chris is forecast to accelerate northeastward on Wednesday and Thursday.

The next advisory from the National Hurricane Center is set for 8 a.m.

EARLIER REPORT:

Tropical Storm Chris as seen by the GOES-East satellite, July 9, 2018

A meandering Tropical Storm Chris may become a hurricane today as it stews about 200 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras.

The compact tropical cyclone had sustained winds of 60 mph as of the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, and was moving south at a sloth-like 1 mph.

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

Chris is expected to remain nearly stationary for the next day or so before it starts on a speedier path to the northeast Wednesday and Thursday.

5 a.m. advisory from National Hurricane Center.

While Chris is not expected to make landfall anywhere in the U.S., it’s top-like stationary spin is generating a swell that will reach South Florida. The National Weather Service in Miami says a northerly swell is working its way down the eastern seaboard and will increase seas beginning today. The forecast says up to 3-feet seas are possible today, growing to 6 feet on Wednesday.

There is a moderate risk of rip currents across all east coast beaches that could escalate to a higher threat level into mid-week.

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There are two challenges Chris faces in its climb to hurricane-status. It’s near-stationary swirl means it’s pulling up cooler water, which can dampen strengthening. Also, after thunderstorms got bolder Sunday, they lost some strength overnight when drier air got sucked into the cyclone and cloud tops warmed.

Still, the official 12-hour forecast is for Chris to strengthen to 65 mph and gain hurricane strength at 75 mph within 24 hours.

If Chris becomes a hurricane – it is not expected to exceed 90-mph, which will keep it a Category 1 – it will be the second of the 2018 hurricane season following Beryl.

The NHC stopped writing advisories on Beryl, but it issued an 8 a.m. forecast giving the remnants of the short-lived hurricane a 40 percent chance of reforming over the next five days as it moves west-northwestward.

“Environmental conditions could become somewhat conducive for regeneration of a tropical cyclone later this week when the system is forecast to turn  northward over the Bahamas and the western Atlantic,” NHC forecasters said.

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PHOTOS: What was that strange thing in Florida’s sky this morning?

An ethereal bloom of white painted a cobalt sky early Friday morning in South Florida, leaving some early risers curious about the origin of the unusual pre-dawn sight.

The wispy tendril that was shaped like a popsicle, or a balloon, or a heart, depending on location, was the result of a 5:42 a.m. SpaceX rocket launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

With 48 minutes before sunrise, the surface of the Earth was still dark, but the rocket’s exhaust plume became illuminated as the day’s first sunbeams met it on its journey into space.

“I thought maybe it was a cloud, but there weren’t any other clouds and it kept changing,” said Arthur Small, who emailed a photo to The Palm Beach Post asking about the unusual object. “The Northern Lights came to mind, but I know you don’t see them this far south.”

At least one person sent a photo of the plume to the National Weather Service in Miami with a query on what it was. Others posted pictures to social media, either exalting the early-morning beauty or questioning its appearance.

“It’s very similar to when you put a cold cup of water in a humid room and you get water on the outside, except up there, it’s ice crystals,” said Robert Garcia, a meteorologist with the NWS in Miami. “Since it was dark, and then you have something suddenly with light on it, it really stands out.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is carrying more than 5,900 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station, including materials for about 250 science and research investigations that will be conducted on the space station.

The rocket is expected to arrive Monday.

An early morning launch in 2015 by a United Launch Alliance rocket elicited similar responses as those Friday.

“Always a cool thing when you can combine weather, science, and rockets,” said Florida Climatologist David Zierden in 2015.

Atlas V rocket launch vapor trail on Oct. 2 as seen from West Palm Beach. Photo by Post Photo Editor Greg Lovett

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VIDEO: Lightning scares the bejesus out of Florida officer

An Apopka policeman got the quite the scare Tuesday when a lightning strike hit too close to home and had him scurrying into his police car.

He did the right thing. A car with a metal roof is an appropriate place to take shelter if you can’t reach a building.

But the video captured by an Apopka Police Department camera shows the shock – no pun intended – the officer had when lightning hit nearby, knocking out electricity and lighting up the back of the parking lot like the Fourth of July.

The department notes on its Facebook page that the officer was unharmed in the incident.

 

A lightning strike near the Apopka Police Department took an officer by surprise in this screen grab from a surveillance camera.

ADVISORY: Storms hammering a line from Royal Palm Beach to Wellington

The National Weather Service has issued a significant weather advisory for a line of thunderstorms stretching from Royal Palm Beach to Wellington that could include 45 mph wind gusts and heavy rain.

The advisory is in effect until 4:15.

Forecasters said the storms are nearly stationary. Areas affected include Wellington, West Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee Groves, and The Acreage.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.