Summer of algae: Despite decades of efforts, near record levels of fertilizer fouled Lake O last year

Hurricane Irma’s torrential rains flooded Lake Okeechobee with more than 450 metric tons of phosphorus in a single month, contributing to a fertilizer dump that nourished this summer’s harmful algae bloom and surpassed the state’s phosphorus goal 10 times over.

Between May 2017 and this past April, 1,046 metric tons of phosphorus soured Lake Okeechobee, carried largely in runoff from farms, dairies, cattle ranches and communities north of Florida’s freshwater center.

About 6 percent of the water and 7 percent of the phosphorus that went into the lake during the same time period came from areas south of Lake O, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

RELATED: Palm Beach County beaches closed after people fall ill from red tide-like irritant 

Scientists predicted an algae bloom was possible after Irma’s September soaking drove lake levels up 3 feet in a month, but the extent of the phosphorus loading wasn’t clear until results were released during a September meeting of the district’s Water Resources Analysis Coalition, or WRAC.

“Last year was a fluke because of the way the rain came with Irma, but it’s a high point in a chronic problem,” said Audubon Florida scientist Paul Gray, who specializes in Lake Okeechobee research. “Clearly we haven’t done near enough to fix it.”

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

The five-year average flow of phosphorus into the lake, including last year, was 598 metric tons. In each of the four years previous, the range of phosphorus was between 415 metric tons and 574 metric tons.

The state goal set in 2001 is 105.

Read the rest of the story and find out more about the decades of failures in trying to fix the nutrient flow in MyPalmBeachPost.com.

 

South Florida heat ties records, but early cool front possible next week

A nearly two-week streak of abnormally warm temperatures is challenging South Florida records and pushing heat indexes to “concerning” levels into the weekend.

Official weather service gauges in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale cooled Wednesday morning to only 81 and 82 degrees, respectively, tying overnight heat records set in both cities in 1998.

The unofficial low Thursday morning in West Palm Beach was 82 degrees, which would break a 1991 record of 81 degrees if it holds true.

CHECK The Palm Beach Post live radar

Blame a stubborn Bermuda High, which has had a hold on the state through much of the month, for the unusual warmth. Fifteen days have seen the mercury rise to 90-degrees or warmer at Palm Beach International Airport, including hitting a whopping 93 degrees on Sept. 19 and 20.

The normal daytime high for late September is 87 or 88 with the normal overnight low typically dropping to 75.

Derrick Weitlich, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne, said the extra daytime heat has been aided by an easterly sea breeze pushing further inland and causing showers and thunderstorms to bypass the coast.

“The storms increase cloud cover and rainfall to really cool things off, but we’ve been drier than normal for most of the month and had higher temperatures,” Weitlich said.

RELATED: South Florida weekly fishing report

An average of 4.6 inches of rain has fallen over coastal Palm Beach County this month, which is more than 2 inches below normal, according to South Florida Water Management District records.

Miami meteorologists warned Thursday of “feels like”, or heat index, temperatures in the triple digits into the weekend. West Palm Beach hit a high of 91 degrees Thursday with a heat index of 105. Although warm, it’s not enough to trigger a heat advisory which is issued when the index is forecast to reach 108 degrees for at least two hours.

“Heat indices are a concern the next few days as temperatures could feel 100 to 107 in some locations in Hendry, Glades, Collier, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties,” meteorologists at the Miami NWS wrote in their forecast.

Through Monday, daytime highs in West Palm Beach are expected to reach near 90 degrees with overnights dipping into the upper 70s.

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

This weekend, the Bermuda High will move further west with its center over the Peninsula. Its clockwise flow is forecast to whip winds up to 15 mph with higher gusts. By Monday, east winds could increase to 16 mph with higher gusts.

That means higher chances of rough seas and rip currents through the weekend.

On Tuesday, a stronger high pressure system moves across the northern part of the U.S., which could push a “backdoor” cold front “possibly through South Florida” Miami meteorologists said.

Although uncertainty in the forecast remains high, meteorologists said models have been hinting at the front with enough consistency they felt confident putting it in the forecast.

Weitlich said a backdoor front is one that comes from the northeast. He’s skeptical one would make it to South Florida this early in the season.

“In terms of temperatures, we certainly won’t see much of a change,” he said.

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Anglers barred from popular fishing spot after gators get aggressive

Alligators, like this one spotted in The Acreage in 2011, tend to hunt opportunistically, not aggressively, said David Hitzig of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

A popular fishing spot in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge will be temporarily off limits to anglers after alligators accustomed to getting free meals from humans have become increasingly aggressive.

Veronica Kelly, a spokeswoman for the refuge, said several alligators have been removed and euthanized after approaching people in an area where fisherman have been seen feeding them.

One of the gators was more than 12-feet long.

“We’ve had 11 violation notices for feeding and enticing alligators since March,” Kelly said. “We regularly get calls about people feeding them, but usually by the time the officer arrives the people are gone.”

The area, which will be off limits to bank fishing through Nov. 2, stretches about 100 yards north and south of the Lee Road Boat Ramp. The ban includes fishing from the fishing platform, boat dock, and boat ramp areas.

RELATED: Gator victim came from Japan but loved Florida 

This alligator was removed from the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge after it became aggressive. Refuge managers believe people were illegally feeding it. Photo courtesy of Barry Willette/USFWS Volunteer

“When gators get  used to being around humans, it totally changes their behavior and they start coming to people for food,” Kelly said.

In one incident, a fisherman reported an alligator tried to jump in his boat. Another person reported being chased by a gator.

The maximum penalty for feeding alligators could be up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Kelly said the refuge hopes the gators that frequent the area will get hungry and leave by Nov. 2. The refuge includes 141,000 acres west of Boynton Beach.

RELATED: Hundreds of gators caught in Palm Beach County, this map shows where 

“On national wildlife refuges, wildlife comes first,” a refuge press release says. “Refuges are set aside for the protection of wildlife and their habitat first and foremost.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are an estimated 1.3 million alligators in the state.

A fisherman at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge’s southern corner, far west of Boca Raton in 2017. (The Palm Beach Post/Eliot Kleinberg)

Alligators are under federal protection as a species. It’s a designation that recognizes a need to keep alligators from being excessively hunted, but also makes allowances to kill a gator considered a nuisance or dangerous.

Related: 7-foot gator wanders outside Florida elementary school

Between 1948 and through 2017, there have been 401 alligator attacks in Florida with 24 fatalities. In June, an alligator killed 47-year-old Plantation resident Shizuka Matsuki while she walked her dogs in Davie’s Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

To report instances of people feeding alligators or other wildlife violations while at the refuge, call 800-307-5789.

 

No tax increase in water district budget, but opposition from unusual source

The leaves of water-lilies (Nymphaea spp.) float ontop of the water and are beneficial to Lake Okeechobee.

The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board will give final consideration to its 2018-2019 budget tonight, which includes no property tax increases for the eighth consecutive year.

The tentative budget of $813.9 million reduces the tax rate for 15 of its 16 counties by about 5.3 percent to $29 per $100,000 of taxable property value. That reduction, called the “rollback rate”, ensures that even though property values have increased, residents will pay the same, or slightly less, than the previous year.

“By eliminating nonessential costs and limiting administrative overhead, this governing board proudly continues its tradition of not raising taxes while achieving flood protection, water supply and environmental restoration,” said Governing Board Chairman Federico Fernandez in a July press release after the board tentatively approved the tax rate in an 8 to 1 vote.

The lone dissenter in the July vote, and subsequent budget discussions, was Jim Moran, who represents Palm Beach County on the board.

Moran, who was appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, is a self-described “conservative tea party guy,” and advocate of smaller government.

But he said he can’t support an 8th year of reduced tax rates.

“We need more money, we’re broke” Moran said in July. “When I first came on the board we had $400 to $500 million in what I call unrestricted reserves, but we’ve spent that down for restoration projects and other projects to what is now below $60 million and we are still only collecting the same amount we were eight to nine years ago.”

South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member James Moran. Moran was appointed to the board in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott.

Moran said keeping the tax rate the same this year would raise an additional $18 to $20 million that could be used for repairs and maintenance to the district’s flood control system, employee raises and bonuses, invasive plant control and upgrades to the district’s fleet of vehicles, including construction equipment.

“It’s one thing to cut back to the bone and still be able to run efficiently, but it’s another thing to have the budget so lean you are not adequately doing flood control or rewarding employees who deserve better bonuses and raises,” Moran said Monday.

The proposed budget does include an additional $3 million for employee compensation, which is a $1.7 million increase, and $3 million for operations and maintenance, which is used to for repairs to levees, canals and water control structures.

District staff said in July that even if money was no object for operations and maintenance, they couldn’t physically complete more projects or do more repairs and that the $3 million allocation was decided on after discussions with Chief Engineer John Mitnik.

Moran has been the lone voice on the board with concerns regarding the upkeep of district flood control systems, repeatedly pointing to a  year-long review by the inspector general that found the annual allotment set aside for repairs should be about $88.5 million, while the actual budget averages only $53 million.

District officials agree the repair budget needs to be bolstered, but not by as much as what is indicated in the report, which they say is based on a facilities survey conducted three years ago that is outdated.

The district is in charge of about 760 culverts, weirs, spillways, locks and pump stations. It also maintains 2,100 miles of canals and 2,000 miles of levees in the 16-county region it oversees from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

Moran resigned as chairman of the district’s Water Resources Analysis Coalition in May after he had asked that the report be added to the coalition’s agenda, but was denied.

“Where I’m not seeing the great concern arise is with our staff,” Fernandez said in July about Moran’s concerns. “The messaging we’ve been receiving is one of staying the course because we’ve been very effective in sticking to our knitting and in not asking for more than what we need.”

The district has been in cost-cutting mode since 2011, which included losing hundreds of employees to layoff and buyouts. In 2009, the district had 1,828 full time employees. The 2018-2019 budget includes 1,475 employees – a nearly 20 percent reduction in the past decade.

Moran wasn’t the only person encouraging the board to keep the millage rate the same.

He was joined by Nyla Pipes, a member of the district’s Water Resources Analysis Coalition and executive director of One Florida Foundation, and Cara Capp, Everglades restoration program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. Both spoke at the July meeting.

Pipes mentioned this summer’s algae plague on Lake Okeechobee and in both northern estuaries.

“If you are looking at a rollback rate when all of us are advocating for projects we know we need, we are sending a very mixed message and I am confident Floridians want to get there on all of these projects and they want to get there faster,” Pipes said. “Literally, at this moment, we have declarations of emergency in this state, and it’s time to recognize the economy is getting better and Floridians will stand behind you if you continue doing the good work you’re doing.”

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TONIGHT: September’s full moon is special, when to see moonrise this week

The full moon sets among the pine trees alongside the Beeline Highway Thursday morning July 2, 2015 . This is the first of two full moons this month; the next one is July 31. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

September’s full harvest moon rises tonight, but there’s something special about the lunar machinations this time of year.

Near the fall equinox, which was Saturday, the moon rises each day closer together, according to Earth and Sky. That means instead of a delay between 40 and 50 minutes each subsequent day, it’s more like 30 to 35 minutes.

The higher the latitude, the shorter the time lag. In Alaska, the lag time is just 10 minutes. In Denver it’s 30 minutes.

RELATED: It’s fall, but when will South Florida start feeling like it? 

“No matter where you live worldwide, the moon will appear plenty full to you on both September 24 and 25, lighting up the night from dusk until dawn,” said Earth and Sky columnist Bruce McClure.

In West Palm Beach, moonrise tonight is 7:20 p.m.

Tuesday’s moonrise will be 7:55 p.m..

Wednesday will see the moon rise at 8:41 p.m.

The Harvest Moon is the only Full Moon name which is determined by the equinox rather than a month, according to TimeandDate.com.

Bottom line, look east tonight at 7:20 p.m. for September’s full harvest moon. Go to the beach, or the Intracoastal waterway for a special celestial treat when the moon emerges large and plump over the flat horizon.

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The glow of sunrise warms the setting full moon behind the steeple of Family Church on Flagler Drive Thursday morning, May 11, 2017. (Lannis Waters @lvw839/The Palm Beach Post)

 

PHOTOS: Multiple reports of waterspout off Palm Beach

The National Weather Service has received multiple reports of a waterspout seen off Palm Beach today around 2:30 p.m.

The waters surrounding Florida provide warmth and moisture for growing clouds that can spawn waterspouts. Often, the clouds that form them are not thunderstorms.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be raining for a waterspout to develop, and they can occur while skies are partly sunny.

A water spout Tuesday morning, July 7, 2015, off the coast of Manalapan. (Photo by Bruce Miller/The Palm Beach Post)

Tropical Atlantic lights up again, four areas being watched

The tropical Atlantic is stirring once again with four areas being watched by the National Hurricane Center for potential cyclonic development.

None of the knots of showers and thunderstorms are an imminent threat to the U.S.

But forecasters said the next named storm, which would be Kirk, could form over the weekend when an area of low pressure in the central subtropical Atlantic finds its way into more favorable conditions.

The spot of disturbed weather, which is midway between Bermuda and Azores, has a 70 percent chance of developing over the next five days.

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

Of the other three areas, two have meager shots of becoming something more in the short term, while the third — a tropical wave off the coast of Africa — has a 60 percent chance of development.

“The coming weeks into mid-October often bring several additional tropical storms and hurricanes,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski wrote in his forecast. “This year may not be any exception.”

Saharan air appears in reds and oranges in this modified satellite image from Sept. 21, 2018.

One of the areas being watched is about 100 miles southeast of Bermuda and has moisture associated with the now defunct Florence, which made landall last week in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane. It has a 30 percent chance of development over five days.

National Hurriane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said the area doesn’t contain enough of Florence to keep that name if it becomes a tropical storm.

After Kirk, the next two names on the 2018 storm list are Leslie and Michael.

RELATED: Surfers jam beaches in hope of Florence swells

The tropical wave, which is about 600 miles south-southeast of the Cabo Verde Islands, was showing signs of organization Friday with environmental conditions forecast to be more accommodating for a tropical depression to form next week.

The peak of the hurricane season was Sept. 10. This season has so far had 10 named storms and five hurricanes. Three hurricanes — Florence, Helene and Isaac — and two tropical storms — Gordon and Joyce — formed between Sept. 1 and Sept. 12.

As of Friday, the season remained more active than normal. Many forecasts reduced their predictions because they believed a fall El Niño was likely. El Niño climate patterns create storm-killing wind shear and are associated with below normal hurricane seasons.

“The anticipated El Niño for this upcoming fall and winter has been lagging, and we are still technically in a neutral phase,” said AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski. “Even though we are over the hump in terms of the average peak of hurricane season, there is still more hurricane season to go.”

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Six-day streak of August-like days may end with afternoon thunderstorms

Sunrise over the Intracoastal in West Palm Beach on Friday, Sept. 21 2018.

South Florida has been on a six-day streak of 90-degree days or warmer with two days this week reaching a sizzling 93 degrees at Palm Beach International Airport.

The normal daytime high for this time of year is 88 degrees, with overnight lows at 75.

September 2018 temperatures at Palm Beach International Airport.

Wednesday and Thursday both hit 93 – not enough to break records which were 94 degrees on both days, but 5 degrees above normal.

Nine days this month have been 90 degrees or warmer.

RELATED: Safest places to live in Florida to avoid a hurricane

That’s more like what’s typical in late July through August.

Robert Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the warm temperatures are partly because the Bermuda High has had a strong grip on Florida.

High pressure leads to sunny skies and warmer temperatures as air sinks and warms compressionally as it does so.

But, there’s also an upper-level area of low pressure.

The two have turned off the typical sea breezes that can cool the air in the afternoon and help kick up thunderstorms.

The storms that have come in have been more pop-up in nature, including a strong one that hit Broward County on Thursday that included quarter-size hail, according to the NWS.

CHECK The Palm Beach Post radar map

“It’s a weird pattern,” Garcia said. “The flow has just been stagnant compared to a normal summer breeze.

That could end today with an increase in chances for thunderstorms.

“These storms could be really slow moving so we could see some areas of ponding where the rain is heavy,” Garcia said.

Saturday is the first day of fall as the equinox marks the Earth begins to tilt the Northern Hemisphere toward autumn.

At the moment of equinox, the Earth’s axis leans neither toward or away from the sun — a parity that produces a nearly equal day and night.

But Garcia said don’t expect any significant dip in temperatures.

While North Florida may experience a cold front in September, they typically don’t push south until at least mid October after the onset of the rainy season, which begins Oct. 15.

“I think we’re still very much in the rainy season for now,” Garcia said.

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Are hurricane shutters canary in coal mine for aluminum tariffs?

Raymundo Orozco, (L) and Enrique Rodriguez of Guardian Storm Protection work on hurricane shutter tracks in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida, September 19, 2018. The tariff’s on steel and aluminum are forcing delays and increases in the the costs for hurricane shutters in South Florida. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Halfway through hurricane season, a high-end Frenchman’s Creek home in Palm Beach Gardens finally got its $40,000 in aluminum hurricane shuttersWednesday — a hard-fought for prize in the new age of tariffs.

Ordered in April, the nearly four-month wait is more than quadruple the norm as aluminum prices edge up and supply dwindles with more mills looking toavoid tariffs by buying American, said Andy Kobosko, Jr., owner of Guardian Storm Protection in suburban West Palm Beach.

Kobosko, whose company filled the Frenchman’s Creek order, said he’s recently reduced delays to four to six weeks by buying in bulk with his Fort Lauderdale-based distributor. A normal wait time for shutters before the tariffs was two to three weeks, Kobosko said.

“Things are starting to catch up, but it’s been a stressful three months,” he said.

RELATED: Safest places to live in Florida to avoid a hurricane

Since President Donald Trump’s…READ the rest of the story at MyPalmBeachPost.com and find out why Florida may be insulated to some extent from tariff impacts. 

Florida fall begins this week; when cooler weather will arrive

Image of Earth from top left during the winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and fall equinox. Courtesy NASA

The fall equinox, the Northern Hemisphere’s first tentative tilt into autumn, is Saturday.

It marks the astronomical end of the hottest, longest days of the year, and is the universe’s promise that cooler weather is on the way.

CHECK The Palm Beach Post’s live hurricane tracking map.

At the moment of equinox, the Earth’s axis leans neither toward or away from the sun — a parity that produces a nearly equal day and night.

“For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner,” said Deborah Byrd, editor-in-chief of the online magazine Earth and Sky. “We’re enjoying the cooler days of autumn.”

But in South Florida, the onset of fall-like temperatures is still at least a month away.

The average daytime high in West Palm Beach doesn’t dip below 85 degrees until Oct. 20, with overnight lows remaining in the 70s until Oct. 27 when the  normal finally dips to 69 degrees.

And even then, the difference between the warmest and coldest periods of the year in South Florida can be just 25 degrees, according to the book Florida Weather, which was co-authored by Florida Climatologist David Zierden.

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“A source of frequent complaint among northern migrants to Florida is its lack of distinct seasons,” the book notes.

In Chicago, Cleveland and New York City, there is a difference of approximately 70 degrees between the average maximum temperature and the average minimum temperature.

Hot temperatures and a calm ocean attracted beachgoers to the sands north of the Juno Beach Pier, September 16, 2018 in Juno Beach, Florida, September 16, 2018. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

NEW: Tropics cool after frenetic week

This week, the difference between the daytime high and overnight low in West Palm Beach was just 12 degrees with Monday reaching a searing 91 degrees and this morning bottoming out at an unofficial 79 degrees.

An area of high pressure over the state should keep the temperatures above normal into the weekend. The normal high this time of year in West Palm Beach is 88 degrees, with a normal overnight low of 75 degrees.