Over the last six months I had given thought to moving part-time to Florida where I could be closer to my parents during my father's illness. Of course another attraction was the number of new and different dive sites the state has to offer from the Keys to the manatees in the crystal clear freshwater springs. As a young boy, I lived in northern Florida and believe that my interest in marine biology got its start in the waters of the Gulf Stream in the vicinity of Jacksonville Beach. Why, I'd even gone through two hurricanes there, and my childhood memories of them were not too traumatic.
So a few weeks ago I packed my backpack with the usual assortment of warm weather clothes (Jimmy Buffet style... changes in latitude anyone?), as well as my tropical dive gear and underwater camera equipment. Stephanie, a dive buddy of mine in the Sea of Cortez, was driving from British Columbia to Florida and we planned to dive the Florida Keys. I wasn't too concerned about weather since Hurricanes Charley and Francis had already passed through the state, and things should settle down by the time we got there. The existing record for hurricane strikes in the state in a single season was three, so I felt fairly safe.
Well, Mother Nature had another plan. A big bully by the name of Ivan started bearing down on the Florida coast. Initially its projected path would cause it to slam into the Keys. The high school friend that we were to stay with on Islamorada was evacuated, along with all the other folks who call the Keys home. Okay, so Steph and I were flexible- we could always dive the west coast of Florida... right? Wrong! Ivan shifted and soon was targeted to strike that coast near Sarasota where my folks live. Oh joy. Would we be boarding up windows instead of enjoying the toasty waters of the Gulf of Mexico?
Fortunately Ivan shifted further offshore and all that threatened our area were the waves kicked up by the passing storm. No diving in those conditions... even a surfer was killed. Steph and I kept in touch via e-mail, and thought about going back to the Keys since they weren't hit this time. Once again Ivan interceded... by slamming into the Florida Panhandle and wiping out any chance Steph could drive in from Texas. There was no joy in Mudville (muddy thanks to the hurricane's rains), and no diving for us anywhere in the state.
I heard several Sarasota locals talk about how the government should do something to stop these hurricanes. A hurricane is said to have the energy of hundreds of atomic bombs. If it were possible to stop one, what would we use? Researchers at NOAA's Hurricane Research Division say that dropping a nuclear bomb on a hurricane would simply make it worse. More importantly, should we stop hurricanes? A hurricane is nature's way of transferring heat from the tropics to the temperate latitudes. In this role, they serve an important function within our global energy and weather systems. To stop them might cause even worse conditions to develop.
Hurricanes form over bodies of water when surface temperatures exceed 79 degrees. They continue to intensify as they pass over warm waters, but are weakened if they enter regions of cooler water and tend to break up over land. The average hurricane involves energy of 3 trillion watts- equal to the generating capacity of all the power plants on Earth. Large hurricanes can be more than 10 times as powerful. No wonder they are so devastating when they hit populated areas. While the damage in human terms is great, one must wonder why people continue to build in hurricane prone areas. Those that live in mobile homes seem to be courting death, or at least destruction. I guess living in "paradise" is worth the cost. As a marine biologist, my major concern is the tremendous damage they do to marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs. These reefs have faced this natural threat of disturbance since well before human beings entered the region. However on top of other problems affecting them like global warming and coral bleaching, hurricanes take a significant toll on the marine world as well.
Just after I returned to the island, Hurricane Jeanne hit Sarasota with a glancing blow. Although Mom stayed home instead of going to a shelter, she said it was the worst one she'd been through. Now I figure that either there's too much heat in the Atlantic and Caribbean due to global warming... or Mother Nature is just getting back at that state for the hanging chads in 2000. I'm happy to be back home. My gills were getting pretty dry after being out of the water for nearly three weeks. Although the ocean here is a tad bit (20 degrees) cooler, at least I can dive even in an earthquake. Don't tell the divers in Florida that or they'll start relocating here instead of going back north where many of them came from!
© 2004 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays.
Hurricane Ivan as it prevents southern Florida divers
from enjoying their favorite sport
(image courtesy of NOAA)
This document maintained by
Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material © 2004 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia