Florida Senator Marco Rubio is asking that a small business recovery center be established in South Florida to help companies affected by this summer’s bout with harmful blue-green algae.
In a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, Rubio refers to the emergency order issued Monday for seven counties, including Palm Beach, that could suffer lost business from algae-infected waterways.
“Unfortunately, businesses in these counties potentially face significant economic consequences from the negative impacts of harmful algal blooms on incomes drawn from fishing, real estate, and tourism,” Rubio said in the letter.
Palm Beach County officials said no significant algae blooms have been spotted in the county, but the state’s order included every county that borders Lake Okeechobee as a precautionary measure.
Deborah Drum, Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resources director, said two samples of algae were taken from the C-51 canal that contained barely detectable levels of toxins.
“We’re happy to report we are not seeing widespread, accumulated algae blooms in Palm Beach County and we’re really holding our breath and hoping the current situation continues,” Drum said.
Martin and Lee counties appear to be taking the brunt of the algae bloom for now. Stuart city officials issued a local state of emergency Monday.
“If they let go of more water, we are just going to get clobbered with more green algae,” said Tom Nolin, the maintenance man at Riverland Marina in Stuart. “Who wants to go boating in a slime-covered river.”
A study to makeover what is probably the most maligned and misunderstood weather graphic in history is underway as federal meteorologists look to redo the hurricane cone of error – a spotlight of fear that has earned the nickname “cone of terror.”
The project, which is being conducted by the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project, is reviewing all of the National Hurricane Center’s communication products, but the cone is taking priority.
Robbie Berg, an NHC specialist, is the informal lead of the nascent project, which is yet unnamed. He said the cone is in the top spot for study because of people’s familiarity with it, but also their chronic misuse of it.
“We know there are limitations with the cone graphic, and the concern is people think that if you’re not in it, you’re safe,” said Ed Rappaport, acting director of the National Hurricane Center. “The cone graphic is almost impossible to replace because it’s so ingrained, but make we could add to it, or introduce something that could become even more popular.”
The cone, which shows the track forecast for tropical cyclones, was discussed Tuesday at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando during a seminar on what changes emergency managers and local weather forecasters would like to see in how hurricane information is communicated.
Some suggestions included adding a time when damaging winds will end so officials have an idea when cleanup can begin. Emergency managers said they would also like probability forecast for a storm’s potential for rapid intensification. Predicting rapid intensification is a challenge for forecasters. During the 2017 hurricane season, there were 39 incidents of rapid intensification. Seven were accurately forecast.
Rapid intensification is defined as an increase in wind speeds of 34 mph or more over a 24-hour period.
Still, the cone took center stage in Tuesday’s discussion.
“We know we are asking a lot of this graphic, and I’m not sure it serves us as well as we think it does,” said Nate Johnson, director of weather operations for NBC Universal-owned television stations.
While people may have grasped that the storm can go anywhere inside the cone, and 33 percent of the time outside of the cone, the second they are no longer inside the hazy white funnel, they breathe a sigh of relief – they shouldn’t.
Katie Webster, a natural hazards expert with the North Carolina Emergency Management Agency, said people dropped their guard after Hurricane Matthew’s cone of error moved away from the Carolinas in 2016.
“That’s why three days later we were rescuing people off their roof,” Webster said. “How do we convey the forecast cone is not an impact cone. The community knows the cone, but we also had 10-plus inches of rain after Matthew.”
Twenty-four people died in North Carolina from freshwater flooding during Hurricane Matthew, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The NHC and local National Weather Service forecasting offices have added multiple graphics in recent years that depict rainfall amounts, arrival time of damaging winds and storm surge heights.
But the cone, Berg said, is an “institution.” People expect to see it, they talk about it at water coolers and over dinner, they pick apart the slightest shift in its location and debate whether it means the bulls eye has moved.
It was first introduced in 2002, and has undergone three tweaks, including the use of more lively colors and a wind field circle that shows how far tropical storm, or hurricane-force winds extend. The yellow blob can stretch well outside the cone, indicating areas where damage can occur.
Still, people struggle to interpret the risks, said Bryan Norcross, a former Weather Channel hurricane expert who saved lives during 1992’s Hurricane Andrew while forecasting for a Miami TV station. In February, Norcross joined former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield working for an ABC affiliate that covers Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
“The way it works now is the National Hurricane Center deals out all these cards and whoever is on the receiving end has to gather up all these cards and put it into one card,” Norcross said. “My sense is a real step forward would be to have an aggregated public advisory with the key message and important graphics.”
Berg said the first step in the study will be figuring out how people use the cone graphic, including utility companies, the military, law enforcement and the average person.
He cautioned against filling it up with too many pieces of information, which may reduce the understanding rather than increase it.
“If you start layering too many hazards onto onto the graphic, people won’t know what the biggest hazard is,” Berg said. “It has to be simple.”
The cuts, outlined in the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget, are part of an effort to streamline the 148-year-old agency and end the costly, yet venerated, practice of operating all weather forecasting offices 24-hours-a-day, year-round.
Of 355 weather service positions that would be lost nationwide through attrition, 248 are meteorologists making local forecasts, issuing severe weather alerts and launching twice-daily weather balloons to gather critical data from a layered atmosphere.
Florida has six of the nation’s 122 weather forecasting offices in Key West, Miami, Melbourne, Jacksonville, Tampa and Tallahassee.
Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, expects one or more of Florida’s offices to be open fewer hours and with less employees — a move he said puts lives at risk in a state with multiple weather torments.
“We are very close to our breaking point right now and if you cut hundreds more positions, we can’t do it,” said Sobien, a former meteorologist in Tampa’s NWS office. “The mission of the National Weather Service is to save lives. This budget would jeopardize that.”
An ambitious project to protect Treasure Coast waterways from rashes of damaging algae reached its first benchmark last week, meeting a deadline as tight as a gator’s bite, but now faces critics who decry it as shortsighted and discriminatory against the Miccosukee Indian Tribe.
The billion-dollar plan, slated for state-owned land in western Palm Beach County, includes sending Lake Okeechobee overflow into an above-ground bowl formed by berms up to 37-feet high to reduce freshwater discharges into the brackish ecosystems of the St. Lucie Estuary.
It is also touted as a partial answer to environmentalists’ refrain to send the water south into the greater Everglades — the natural path before man scarred Florida’s revered River of Grass with canals, roads and homes cut into marshland.
That watershed feeds into the lands of the Miccosukee, who fear receiving harmful nutrient-laden water tainted by agriculture north of the lake.
The tribe sent a letter to South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks the same day the district’s proposal was due to state lawmakers saying the plan — mandated by legislation passed in 2017 — discriminates against the Miccosukee in favor of the Treasure Coast.
“Clearly, the purpose of the legislation is to reduce the high volume of polluted water from being discharged into the northern estuaries,” wrote Billy Cypress, tribe chairman. “While we do advocate for ‘shared adversity,’ it seems time after time, the only adversity is that which is imposed on Tribal lands.”
Man has always looked to the cosmos for answers, with delight, in fear, and for signs.
In August, the boldest sign the universe can bring — a midday midnight — will be on display for millions of people as a total solar eclipse paints a black ribbon coast-to-coast.
It is mechanical, an alignment predictable to the second, an event ripe for scientific study. Yet, it is also an apparition so profound that historically, and even today, a total solar eclipse is considered by some a signal from a higher power, or a harbinger of apocalypse.
“Total eclipses are so phenomenal and so overpowering and so amazing that some people have ascribed a ‘super spirituality’ to them,” said Dan McGlaun, a 12-time total solar eclipse viewer who runs the website Eclipse2017.org. “That’s why so many cultures have created stories and myths about eclipses throughout history.”
The Aug. 21 total solar eclipse is the first in 99 years to cross the U.S., traveling from Oregon to South Carolina. Everyone in North America will be able to see the eclipse, but only those in the 70-mile wide path of totality will witness a black hole open in the daytime sky as the moon envelops the sun.
The cross-country eclipse will take 90 minutes, beginning at 10:15 a.m. PST in Newport, Ore., and ending 4:10 p.m. EST in Charleston, S.C. For two minutes, 40 seconds, darkness will reign in the strip of totality where 12 million people live and millions more will journey.
In ancient times, mythical animals were often blamed for the darkness, eating the sun bite by bite to starve people of life-giving light. An invisible dragon swallowed the sun in China. India had a serpent head with no body munching on the bright star. Demon dogs did the deed in Scandinavia. The Mayans thought a giant Jaguar was the culprit.
Some Australian aboriginal tribes thought the eclipse was the joining of the moon and sun as man and wife, or the moon (man) pulling the curtains of the sky closed for privacy as they came together.
“That’s really the sweetest one I’ve heard,” said Lika Guhathakurta, NASA’s lead scientist for the eclipse. “Most cultures have regarded eclipses with great trepidation and fear, and you can understand why when all of a sudden darkness descends during the day and you don’t know why.”
Guhathakurta said in remote parts of India people hold onto folklore beliefs that food cooked during an eclipse is poison and people bang pots and pans together to frighten away the moon so the sun can shine again. There is also a misconception that solar eclipses can harm pregnant women, who are asked to stay indoors during the event.
As recent as 1995, Guhathakurta said she saw the pots and pans ritual in India. In 1998, she saw the same thing in Mongolia.
“Even in our country, there are all kinds of ideas,” said Guhathakurta.
The change in water conditions is so extreme, that emergency measures were needed to drain excess water from conservation areas that are two feet above comfort level for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The measures pit the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow against other animals in the Everglades. If flood gates were open to save animals in the catchment areas, sparrow nests could be drowned.
Sparrows lost the fight with the corps deciding Tuesday it would allow the gates to open.
A Falcon 9 rocket will carry the unmanned Dragon spacecraft into space. It will be laden with food, supplies and experiments for astronauts living on the ISS.
NASA says about 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit and begin maneuvering toward the space station. It will take two days for the Dragon to reach the space station.
“This cargo mission by SpaceX also will set a milestone as the first launch from Launch Complex 39A since the space shuttle fleet retired in 2011,” NASA says on its website. “It will mark a turning point for Kennedy’s transition to a multi-user spaceport geared to support public and private missions, as well as those conducted in partnership with NASA.
Also from NASA: “Some of humanity’s greatest adventures in orbit began at Launch Complex 39A. Astronauts lifted off from this pad six times between 1969 and 1972 to walk upon lunar soil. Flying inside Apollo spacecraft atop massive Saturn V rockets, the astronauts left Florida and the Earth behind for two weeks, while they ventured to the moon.”
Live coverage of the meet-up will begin at 7:30 a.m. Monday, again on NASA T.V. Installation will begin at 11:30 a.m.
With no clouds radiating infrared radiation toward the surface overnight, the ground will easily lose its daytime heat leading to much cooler temperatures.
National Weather Service forecasters in Miami are calling for overnight lows in the upper 30s across north-central Palm Beach County and around 50 degrees along the coast.
“A reinforcing shot of chilly air behind a weak front may allow wind chill temperatures to drop from the mid to upper-30s across areas west of Lake Okeechobee to mid-40s to near 50 across the southeast coast and 40s elsewhere across interior South Florida,” forecasters wrote in a hazardous weather outlook this morning.
The official forecast for West Palm Beach overnight is 46 degrees. Jupiter could see 49 degrees, with Wellington falling to 46 degrees. If those temperatures verify, it could be the coldest night of the season for many areas.
It will likely be the coldest night of the year. So far this month, the coldest temperature West Palm Beach has experienced is 51 degrees on Jan. 8.
The normal overnight low for late January is 57 degrees.