Once Debby's gone, mosquitoes move in

6:16 AM, Jun 27, 2012   |    comments
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(News-Press.com) - As a weakened Tropical Depression Debby made landfall in North Florida late Tuesday afternoon, experts said the storm's legacy in Lee County will be mosquitoes.

Debby lost strength Tuesday for three reasons, said meteorologist Todd Kimberlain of the National Hurricane Center:

• Tropical cyclones feed on warm water, and Debby sat for a long time in one place, which allowed cold water to well up from the depths.

• Wind shear (changes in wind direction and speed with altitude) from the west caused the storm to become less organized.

• Tropical cyclones need moist air, and dry air moved into the system from the north.

Debby made landfall near Steinhatchee, southeast of Tallahassee.

"As Debby passes across Florida, the winds will no longer be southwest," Kimberlain said. "In (Southwest Florida), there will be drier air, and there should be clearing from west to east, but it will be a gradual process."

Debby's rains and winds brought nothing more than street flooding to Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties Tuesday. Although the storm do much damage, it will produce plenty of mosquitoes in the area, said Shelly Redovan, spokeswoman for the Lee County Mosquito Control District.

Most of Lee County's 47 mosquito species lay eggs on low-lying, flood-prone ground, and the eggs hatch when they're covered by rain or tides; other species lay eggs on standing water.

Heavy rains from Debby have produced large areas of standing water for mosquitoes to lay eggs on and have covered eggs that had been laid in low-lying inland areas.

At the same time, Debby's southerly winds pushed extremely high tides well into salt marshes to cover eggs in low-lying coastal areas.

"The worst case would be a large brood of mosquitoes coming off salt marshes and freshwater areas at the same time," Redovan said. "We're warning people and hoping they understand they may have mosquitoes for a couple of days before we can get to them."

After mosquito eggs hatch, the larvae live in the water a few days before emerging as adults. Mosquito control prefers to kill the larvae while they're in the water, but high winds have kept aircraft from flying to spray for larvae.

"We're concerned that a large number of adults will come off this weekend," Redovan said. "Then we'll only have a couple of days to knock them down before the Fourth of July."

With extensive salt marshes and flooded freshwater wetlands, Pine Island and western Cape Coral will probably be the first to feel the mosquito bite, Redovan said.

Sea turtle nesting on Sanibel took a hit, said Amanda Bryant, coordinator of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation sea turtle program.

On Monday, sea turtle monitors said 10 of 74 nests on Bonita Beach had been washed away, and most of the rest were underwater; sea turtle eggs can be destroyed when they're covered by water.

Extremely high tides kept Bryant from checking nests before Tuesday.

"I don't have many nests left," she said. "I've been getting frantic calls about eggs in the surf. Some nests are still in place, but those have been inundated for the last three days."

As of Saturday, sea turtles had laid more than 200 nests on Sanibel.

"That's pretty impressive for the end of June," Bryant said. "Then here comes a tropical storm to ruin all the fun."

The loss of so many nests isn't a catastrophe because sea turtle nesting season continues until Oct. 31.

"They'll come back and start nesting," Bryant said. "They've been around 100 million-plus years. Storms are part of nesting season. That's why they nest over the course of the summer. That's why each female lays multiple nests in a season."

Caution urged

City officials in Naples urged residents to use caution in flood-prone areas, especially when driving near Tin City, at Eighth Avenue South and 11th Street South. That area had minor flooding because of high tide and storm surge, city spokeswoman Tamika Seaton said.

Roger Jacobsen, harbormaster for Naples, closed the Naples Pier on Tuesday afternoon because of high winds and surf.

"It's the third time we've closed it in four years," he said. "It happens, but not often."

Jacobsen said the pier was closed for three reasons.

"(The wind hit 30 knots, we're facing a super tide coming up on the beach and we had our first wave crash over the pier," he said. "When a wave crashes over the top of the pier, it gets dangerous for anyone to be up there."

OK in Bonita

Bonita Springs, where sheet flow flooding has been an issue in the past, is relatively dry. In 1995, after days of heavy rain and following Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, hundreds were evacuated from their homes east of Interstate 75 and west of 75 along dirt roads such as Quinn Street, Downs Drive, Edith Lane and Oakland Drive - and mobile home parks such as Imperial Harbor Estates.

"Right now, we're not too worried," said Carl Schwing, Bonita's city manager. "There is a lot of room in the Imperial River before we reach capacity."

Sheet flow flooding occurs when rainwater accumulates to the northeast of Bonita and runs into the narrow Imperial River.

Nicole Hornberger, spokeswoman for Bonita Springs Fire Rescue, said canals east of the city and which lead into the Imperial are far from being at flood stage.

"When they become inundated, that's when we become concerned," Hornberger said.

Higher than normal tides with flooding along coastal roads and low-lying areas were expected throughout Southwest Florida because of strong onshore winds. Tides were expected to continue to be 2-3 feet above normal through this evening. Lee County Emergency Operations Center advised motorists to use caution during high-tide cycles when driving on coastal and river roads, as well as when crossing bridges.

In Punta Gorda

Flooding closed streets in downtown Punta Gorda, including those running between U.S. 41 and Cooper Street and between Marion Avenue and Olympia Avenue.

Kenny Sparks, 68, walked along Marion in rubber boots and a rain jacket.

"The city spent millions of dollars on draining systems, but I guess with the high tide, the water just keeps coming up," he said. "This is terrible."

The weather affected downtown businesses as well.

In Your Face Cupcakes manager Christy Orndorff said the Marion Avenue bakery closed early Monday.

"We get a lot of foot traffic, so if it's bad out, no one comes in," she said.

Still fishing

Despite wind speeds in the 20- to 30-mph range with gusts to 40 mph Sunday and Monday, some were determined to go fishing, said Paul Smith, manager of Old Pine Island Marine in St. James City.

"A few brave souls bought shrimp and went out," he said. "They actually caught some trout and snapper.

"I don't blame them. They were down here for vacation. They came to fish, and they didn't have the luxury to wait for a nice day."

In Bokeelia, the Tarpon Lodge was dry, even though Waterfront Drive to the north and south of the eatery was flooded.

"We're open for what few people come out most of them probably got to the water and turned around," facility operations manger Mo Mollen said. "It is what it is. You can't do much about it.

"Let's put it this way: I've picked up a lot of palm fronds."