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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 NylaPipes, 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.”
UPDATE 12:17 p.m.: Kirk lost its center circulation this morning, meaning it no longer fits the definition of a tropical cyclone.
The National Hurricane Center is no longer issuing advisories on the system, but its remnants will be monitored as it moves toward the Lesser Antilles.
UPDATE 8 a.m.: The Carolinas could be in store for another round of unwanted rain as a low pressure system between Bermuda and the Bahamas finds a more conducive environment for strengthening as it moves west-northwest.
The area, which was given a 40 percent chance of development over the next five days, is in an area with slightly warmer than normal sea surface temperatures, but is expected to reach even warmer waters this week.
If the area of low pressure near the Carolinas were to become a named storm it would be Michael.
Kirk, which became the season’s 11th named storm on Saturday, has weakened to a depression but could see some restrengthening before hitting the “ever-present wall of wind shear near” near the Lesser Antilles, Masters said.
That wind shear is expected to tear Kirk apart later this week.
According to the National Hurricane Center, four named storms develop in the Atlantic after mid-September in an average season, three of which become hurricanes and one of which becomes a Category 3 or stronger hurricane.
While the 2018 season remains above normal for this time of year with 12 named storms, including 5 hurricanes, it has one fewer major hurricane than normal.
Florence has been the only storm to become a major hurricane of Cat 3 or stronger.
The number of named storms is challenging forecasters’ predictions for an average storm season.
The Climate Prediction Center’s August forecast predicted 9 to 13 named storms, 4 to 7 hurricanes and 0 to 2 major hurricanes.
“This year, despite the recent uptick in activity, the overall activity remains typical of a less active season,” said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster for the Climate Prediction Center. “For example, only two of seven storms since August 1have become hurricanes. This propensity for weaker, shorter-lived storms is typical of a less active season.”
Tropical Storm Kirk has weakened to a tropical depression as it moves quickly west across the Atlantic.
The National Hurricane Center said it had 35-mph maximum sustained winds, which were expected to strengthen but then lessen and dissipate the next few days.
Meanwhile subtropical storm Leslie is lingering in the Central Atlantic with maximum sustained winds at 40 miles per hour. It’s not expected to move much today, nor gain strength until it merges with a frontal system in the next two or three days.
Lastly, there is an area of low pressure between Bermuda and the Bahamas that has a 30 percent of forming into a depression within 48 hours.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Everything is pointing to an early Fall cool down this year, maybe 8-10 days away…except in Florida. We will still be frolicking in the ocean and working on our tan. But you go ahead America. Cool down all you want. Have a pumpkin spice whatever and think about us on the beach. pic.twitter.com/WShQQgclWA
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.
The tropics are nothing if not tenacious this September, with a tropical wave trying to become the next named storm under a plume of dry Saharan air.
National Hurricane Center forecasters are giving the area of disturbed weather only a 20 percent of tropical development over the next five days, with nearly no chance of development in the next 48 hours.
But by September, SAL outbreaks overspread the Caribbean only 10 to 15 percent of the time.
“It’s just that they’re a bit smaller than their June to August cousins and they especially don’t tend to reach as far west,” Dunion said.
Forecasters said Monday that tropical development was unlikely over the next 10 days.
While hurricane season lasts through Nov. 30, the tropical waves that produce Cape Verde storms tend to diminish by late September, said Bob Henson, a meteorologist for Weather Underground, part of IBM.
“We’ve come past the normal peak and it was an especially sharp peak this year because everything kind of aligned,” Henson said. “It was just a constellation of ingredients that came together and if the formula changes just a little bit, the numbers can drop pretty sharply.”
This year, three hurricanes — Florence, Helene and Isaac — and two tropical storms — Gordon and Joyce — formed between Sept. 1 and Sept. 12.