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Water Quality Report: Hoping to be wrong about fuel for more storms

A July 22, 2023, visible satellite image of Hurricane Don, the first of the 2023 Atlantic tropical season
A July 22, 2023, visible satellite image of Hurricane Don, the first of the 2023 Atlantic tropical season


The deadliest wildfire in our nation’s history just burned everything to the ground in a well-manicured, historic city on Maui, which is on an active volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They don’t yet know what did start the blaze, but they do know it wasn’t the volcano.

Earlier this summer, hundreds of people throughout the U.S. died from heat-related causes. Some just baked to death in stuffy apartments; others fell on asphalt so hot their skin sizzled and they succumbed to their burns during the hottest July ever recorded in America. This whole year, worldwide, is going to go down as the planet’s hottest, ever.

This spring in New England, 1,000-year floods happened – twice in the span of a few weeks -- and homes fell into swollen rivers from flooding in Alaska where everything is supposed to be frozen. Instead, the mountain-top snowpack and glaciers are melting faster than even doomsday climate-change scientists imagined.

Wildfires on volcanos. Killer heat waves. Water wreaking havoc.

The environmental calamities so far this year – any one of them would have been The News Story of the Year if it was the only one that happened – are tragic. My heart goes out to everyone affected.

And then there’s us

It’s been really hot in Florida, but most of us are sort of used to it. There’s been no wildfire smoke from another country invading our air space, no swollen river washing people away.

One thing we are really good at, however, is hurricanes.

We don’t know Hurricane Ian’s true top wind speed because the massive, slow-moving storm broke every single weather station, public or private, in Southwest Florida.

My greatest fear is that those super-heated-and-still-getting-warmer waters in the Atlantic Ocean are preparing to fuel a monster tropical system, one that could rival 2015’s Hurricane Patricia.

Patricia made landfall on the Pacific Coast of Mexico with sustained winds of 215 mph. That wind speed is within the F4 tornado range. Patricia, however, was not a big rainmaker.

Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was. Just before it made landfall in Texas it was a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph and dropped more than 60 inches of rain.

By way of comparison, Hurricane Ian was a Category 4 storm at landfall in Lee County and dropped as much as 28 inches of rain.

We don’t know Hurricane Ian’s true top wind speed because the massive, slow-moving storm broke every single weather station, public or private, in Southwest Florida.

Hoping to be wrong

Amidst the barrage of extreme weather events worldwide in the past six months the absence of land-falling hurricanes feels like an ominous silence.

Sea-surface temperatures are so warm – hot – they will probably set another world record, especially if the 101.3 F measured near Florida Bay holds up.

Superheated ocean water is like a nuclear energy plant for hurricanes. Should a super hurricane form and strike land it would do damage equivalent to many more nuclear explosions than a “normal” storm.

It would reopen the debate among meteorologists as to whether we need to add a Category 6, perhaps even a Category 7, to the scale that rates hurricanes by wind speed.

Let's be brutally honest: warmer waters are turbocharging hurricanes. We're talking about a scenario where categories seem to blur, where preparedness isn't just a checklist but a lifeline.

This is not a drill.

It's about understanding that the 'once in a lifetime' is knocking on our door, perhaps twice.

It's about recognizing that courage lies in confronting this reality head-on, knowing resilience is our greatest asset.

Double down on your hurricane kits. Buy canned food, batteries, and lots of bottled water now. Spring for that generator.

Do not wait until tomorrow.


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that over the past week the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, was nowhere to be found whether in water samples or by that satellite about us right now that can “see” harmful algae blooms.

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife received no birds requiring treatment for symptoms of red tide exposure.

No reports of fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were received over the past week

Respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide was not reported in Florida over the past week


Nothing new here.

Blue-green algae is being found in samples along the Caloosahatchee River still. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Lee County Environmental Lab have been finding blue-green algae in samples in the river for three months.

Expect it to get worse before it gets better.

Earlier this week, satellite imagery from Lake Okeechobee showed blue-green algae all over the place.

What is red tide?

Red tide is one type of harmful algal bloom caused by high concentrations of the toxic dinoflagellate K. brevis, which is a type of microscopic algae found in the Gulf of Mexico. Red tide typically forms naturally offshore, commonly in late summer or early fall, and is carried into coastal waters by winds and currents. Once inshore, these opportunistic organisms can use nearshore nutrient sources to fuel their growth. Blooms typically last into winter or spring, but in some cases, can endure for more than one year.

Is red tide harmful?

K. brevis produces potent neurotoxins (brevetoxins) that can be harmful to the health of both wildlife and people. Wind and wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release toxins into the air. This is why you should monitor conditions and stay away from beaches where red tide is in bloom. People in coastal areas can experience varying degrees of eye, nose and throat irritation during a red tide bloom. Some individuals with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic lung disease might experience more severe symptoms. Red tide toxins can also affect the central nervous system of fish and other marine life, which can lead to fish kills.

What causes red tide?

A red tide bloom develops naturally, but recent studies have discovered mankind's infusion of other nutrients into the mix can make the red tide last longer or get stronger. But biology (the organisms), chemistry (natural or man-made nutrients for growth) and physics (concentrating and transport mechanisms) interact to produce the algal bloom. No one factor causes the development of a red tide bloom.

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are a group of organisms that can live in freshwater, saltwater or brackish water. Large concentrations, called blooms, can change the water color to blue, green, brown, orange or red. Some cyanobacterial blooms can look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of freshwater lakes and ponds. As algae in a cyanobacterial bloom die, the water may smell bad

Is blue-green algae harmful?

Different types of blue-green algal bloom species can look different and have different impacts. However, regardless of species, many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins that can make you or your pets sick if swallowed or possibly cause skin and eye irritation. The Florida department of Environmental Protection advises staying out of water where algae is visibly present as specks or mats or where water is discolored. Pets or livestock should not come into contact with algal bloom-impacted water or with algal bloom material or fish on the shoreline. If they do, wash the animals immediately.

What causes blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae blooms occur when the algae that are normally present grow in numbers more than normal. Within a few days, a bloom can cause clear water to become cloudy. Winds tend to push some floating blooms to the shore where they become more noticeable. Cyanobacterial blooms can form in warm, slow-moving waters that are rich in nutrients. Blooms can occur at any time, but most often occur in late summer or early fall.

If any major type of water quality alert is issued, you can find the details here in WGCU’s Water Quality Report.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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