Fred Grimm

Florida and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

Water full of algae laps along the Sewell's Point shore on the St. Lucie River under an Ocean Boulevard bridge on June 27
Water full of algae laps along the Sewell's Point shore on the St. Lucie River under an Ocean Boulevard bridge on June 27 AP

We await the plague of locusts.

Having blown through a checklist of cataclysms, natural and otherwise, Floridians can only wonder what other curses this damnable year can conjure out of the ether and muck.

We might have hoped that Hurricane Matthew’s nasty foray along the east coast was the culmination of 2016’s hex on Florida. Then climatologists taught us this unhappy term: “the Fujiwhara effect,” defined as when two swirling hurricanes collide and bounce off one another, creating satellite graphics reminiscent of the old Pong arcade game. Which explains why Nicole is expected to jettison Matthew and send it looping back our way like a spurned lover.

Matt’s return engagement is expected sometime next week. A double whammy. To be expected in star-crossed Florida, circa 2016.

Our hurricane-free epoch, such a lovely decade, had already come to a stormy conclusion on Sept. 2, when Hurricane Hermine pummeled the Panhandle and left 325,000 people without electricity, including most of Tallahassee. But Hermine rates hardly more than a minor entry in Florida’s ledger of recent disasters.

It’s as if fate decided 2016 would be the year Florida calamities finally outdo the collective imaginations of homeboy writers Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry and Craig Pittman. But without the humor.

Locals sure as hell found little comedy in the massive algae blooms that clogged the St. Lucie estuary, covering the water with foamy layers of a reeking, toxic, gelatinous toxic cyanobacteria scum called microcystis. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties on the east coast and Lee County on the west coast, where a similar dross afflicted the Caloosahatchee River.

Residents complained of rashes, nausea, diarrhea, inflamed eyes and irritated throats, and tourists stayed away.

The algae was born out of massive water releases from grotesquely polluted Lake Okeechobee, where the Army Corps of Engineers tries to keep the water level below 15.5 feet to keep the dicey old earthen dike around the lake perimeter from bursting. By the way, the water level on Thursday, even before Matthew’s first squall had reached central Florida, was 15.9 feet. Florida’s in for either another disastrous algae bloom, or something truly horrible if the old dike gives way.

The algae wasn’t the only disaster for Florida tourism. Don’t forget the devastating fish kills in the spring that devastated the Indian River Estuary, leaving thousands of fish carcasses floating on the Indian River, Banana River, Sykes Creek and the Mosquito Lagoon. Not exactly the stuff of postcards.

Marine biologists warned that the continued pollution of the Space Coast waterways would bring even more fish kills. So we have that to look forward to this fall.

Nor was Florida’s watery image helped by a 300-foot-deep sinkhole that opened up under a phosphate plant over in Polk County, allowing acidic waste to seep into the aquifer below, threatening the local drinking water. Given all that, we barely noticed that water laden with high levels of radioactive isotopes had been flowing into Biscayne Bay from the cooling canals around the Turkey Point nuclear plant. Or the sewage flowing off of Miami Beach into the bay.

Our water woes were soon eclipsed by reports of Zika-infected mosquitoes around Wynwood. Then Miami Beach. Suddenly the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was warning pregnant women to stay away. “If you’re concerned about Zika,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said, “you may consider postponing all non-essential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County.”

By Wednesday, the state had counted 986 cases of Zika infections, including 103 involving pregnant women.

This was also the year that Florida suffered the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which left 50 dead (including the shooter) and 53 others wounded, the deadliest mass shooting perpetrated by a single killer in U.S. history.

And the year when Miami lost sports hero Jose Fernandez, the ace Marlins baseball pitcher, when his boat crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach.

It was the year Dwyane Wade absconded to Chicago and Chris Bosh’s health problems have probably ended his Miami Heat career. And the Dolphins ... well ... nothing new about that particular disaster.

The year has given us an unprecedented number of shark bites along Florida’s coastline. And a horrendous alligator attack at Disney World. A state-sanctioned black bear massacre. Meanwhile, wildlife biologists warned that the tegu lizard was emerging as a major threat to South Florida’s indigenous creatures. The lizard added to the unnatural disaster caused by the fast breeding descendants of other cast-off pets like Burmese pythons and Nile monitors.

Scary, too, has been the year’s startling number of scary clown sightings.

And 2016 saw the promising candidacies of Florida’s favorite sons, Jeb and Marco, ruined by a very scary clown indeed. (Speaking of looming disasters.)

It’s enough to make Floridians want to crawl under their beds, pretend they never heard of the Fujiwhara effect, and hunker down until we’ve seen the end of this dreadful year. Just 12 more weeks to go.

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