Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
The national drought mitigation center has classified more than 90 percent of the state as being in some severity level of drought.
The Lake Okeechobee area is in extreme drought with West Florida in moderate drought conditions. Florida State Meteorologist Ben Nelson says records back to 1895 show this is the second driest April through March stretch.
“We know historically some of the worst droughts in our state’s history – the 1930’s, the 1950’s and even the 1970’s – all of those multi- year droughts coincided with very strong la nina conditions in that equatorial Pacific. So we’re not in a La Nina right now but some of the computer forecasts do indicate that we might slip into La Nina later this summer.”
La Nina’s cooler than average waters bring drier conditions. El Nino usually brings wetter conditions. The last El Nino Florida experienced didn’t stick around long enough to bring down enough rain. Nelson reminds folks though that it’s going to take much more than the summer rains to get out of this drought.
More than 90 percent of the state is experiencing drought – with the worst conditions in South and Southwest Florida – especially Lake Okeechobee – which is at its second lowest level ever says Florida State Meteorologist Ben Nelson.
“The lake level being this low, all of that sediment and muck that was pushed into the lake during the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes is being cleaned up right now by the water management district and they tell me that once our rainfall patterns come back, whether that be next year or the year after the lake will be much healthier than it’s been before. Another symptom of drought is wildfires and we’re going to have a rough couple of months here in May and June.”
The summer rains will be lightening which will spark more wildfires.
Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency as 15 wildfires covering 1,400 acres ignited Wednesday night. 95 wildfires are active in Florida and they have consumed 11,000 acres so far this spring.
Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
Water managers are conducting their own exercises in conjunction with the statewide effort launched today.
Emergency officials at the South Florida Water Management District normally hold their own hurricane preparation dry run, but because the imaginary Hurricane Tolbert made landfall within the District this year they decided to join up with the statewide exercises.
Director of Emergency Management for the District - Olivia McClain – says once Tolbert makes landfall they’ll act as if it’s real and proceed from there…
“We will be deploying troops as you would say out to our critical facilities. Our damage assessment teams will be going out and simulating all the paperwork they have to do for damage assessment and reporting that back. We’ll be testing our alternate communication systems. With a major hurricane you’re going to loose communication, landlines… so we’re testing satellite radios and all our redundant communications as well.”
The exercise lasts 3 days. McClain says right now the water District’s Emergency Operations Center is activated because of ongoing drought conditions…so this test gives them a unique chance to see if they’re ready to handle two emergencies at once.
Emergency officials with the South Florida Water Management District are holding mock hurricane exercises this week in conjunction with state emergency managers. Because of severe drought conditions the district’s Emergency Operations Center has been recently activated – and that means this year water officials have a unique chance to test their ability to respond to simultaneous challenges.
The District’s Director of Emergency Management – Olivia McClain – says the fact that it’s dry right now doesn’t mean there’s less for water managers to be concerned about from the upcoming hurricane season.
“Sometimes you can experience even more flooding when the ground is hard and you get a lot of rain at one time, then the ground can’t absorb that rainfall as quickly as it normally would. So you’re going to have a lot of rain standing on the surface.”
McClain says because the South Florida Water Management District is so big they could easily be facing a land-falling hurricane in one region while other areas are still facing severe shortages.
The statewide mock hurricane exercises got underway Monday and run through Thursday.
Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
Now that Florida is under a state of emergency due to the dry conditions and wildfire threat…officials are asking residents to be vigilant when it comes to price gouging.
Florida Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson is asking anyone to come forward if they think they see price gouging occurring. Under Florida law it is unlawful to charge exorbitant prices for essential items such as; shelter, gas or water during a declared state of emergency. Commission spokesman Terence McElroy says they examine every complaint about price gouging very seriously.
“We’ll take those complaints, we’ll look into them. Those that have merits will be assigned to an investigator. We’ll actually send someone out into the field if necessary to follow up on it. Anybody who is caught violating the price gouging law here in Florida is dealt with pretty harshly.”
McElroy says anyone who thinks they see price gouging going on should call 1-800-HELP-FLA. He adds those convicted could face fines up to a thousand dollars per incident.
Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
State officials are gearing up for the 2007 Hurricane season with a week long exercise that kicks of Monday. The annual event will test the Florida State Emergency Response Team, or SERT’s, ability to handle any scenario Mother Nature may create.
When the exercise begins no one from SERT will know what to expect. All they know is that a fictional storm will come through Florida, testing the response capabilities of state and local agencies. The Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Mike Stone says there will be scenarios, including videos that will create a feel of real world events. He adds that anything can happen during the exercise.
“It won’t be uncommon for us to have, actually, two storms or other events thrown into the equation…actually most of us are waiting to see what will be thrown at us this year.”
Stone says with the current wildfire state of emergency all the teams will already be assembled. This year’s fictional storm – named for the exercise will be Hurricane Tolbert. The exercise runs through May 11th.
Hurricane season begins June first and state officials are asking everyone to create a plan. Florida Division of Emergency Management officials are preparing for this year’s hurricane season with a week long hurricane exercise. Starting Monday through Thursday next week, the Florida State Emergency Response Team or SERT will run drills during a fictional hurricane scenario. Florida emergency management representative Mike Stone says just as the state is preparing, so should residents.
“Now is a good time to simply get a plan…and you can build a personalized family or business disaster plan and then be prepared to take advantage of the sales tax holiday on hurricane items that begins on June first.”
This is the second year the legislature passed a tax holiday on hurricane supplies. The hurricane exercise is an annual event that tests the response capabilities of all state and local agencies. Stone adds, to get that disaster plan ready, visit www.floridadisaster.org.
Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
The woman who founded Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota celebrated her 85th birthday in a big way Friday night. Dr. Eugenie Clark has inspired countless young women to follow her lead making landmark contributions to marine science for the past 50 years. And she used the party at Mote as a send-off – she’s headed back to New Guinea Monday for yet another exploration. WGCU’s Amy Tardif reports.
Friday, 04 May 2007 01:00
For the next five days, Margaritaville is being invaded by Nashville.
Nearly 90 performing songwriters -- with credits featuring hits for such country megastars as Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Trisha Yearwood and Tanya Tucker -- have come to Key West for the 12th annual Hog's Breath Songwriters' Festival.
There are 29 shows at 16 venues during the 12th annual Hog's Breath Key West Songwriters' Festival. The chart-topping writers scheduled to play their hit songs and preview new tunes include Brett James, who authored Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel"; the legendary Don Schlitz, who penned "The Gambler" and Scotty Emerick.
“The first song that I played was a song that a buddy of mine, Toby Keith, and I wrote a few years ago called Beer for My Horses and had a big hit with it and it was real exciting especially because Willy Nelson sang on it and for Toby and I Willy’s always been a hero of ours.”
The 2007 festival includes 30 shows -- each featuring multiple writers who sing, play, and tell the stories behind their songs. The Hog’s Breath Songwriter’s Festival runs today through Sunday in Key West.
The Key West Songwriters' Festival runs today through Sunday with a sunset performance overlooking Key West Harbor. More than 70 of the United States' top performing songwriters are showcasing their original music in intimate, audience-friendly tropical settings.
They include Scotty Emerick, whose writing triumphs include "Beer for My Horses" recorded by Willie Nelson and Toby Keith.
“My favorite thing – the world famous Hog’s Breath Saloon – there’s an upstairs listening room of about 150-200 people. It’s a great place to play. It’s one of my favorite places I’ve ever played around the country. There’s a lot of great songwriters that come down and play there also and that’s the favorite spot.”
Others who play during the songwriter’s festival include legendary writers Chuck Cannon, who co-wrote "How Do You Like Me Now?" and "American Soldier" with Toby Keith; and Wendell Mobley, whose megahits include “I Melt,” recorded by Rascal Flatts.
Thursday, 03 May 2007 01:00
The ongoing recovery in Charlotte County from Hurricane Charley marked another mile-stone Wednesday.
Ground breakings and ribbon cuttings have become standard fare in Charlotte County as it continues to rebuild from the damage left behind by Hurricane Charley in August 2004. This time is the opening of the rebuilt Florida Street Operations Center – headquarters for public works and maintenance in south county. Allen Hobach is Charlotte’s Maintenance Operations Manager.
“there’s been overall good recovery – what we’re seeing now is the remnants of it – those who aren’t going to rebuild – who don’t have the insurance money to be able to rebuild – but I would say we’ve made great strides in the county and city recovering from hurricane charley, but there’s still work to be done.”
The Seven thousand square foot building houses maintenance and operations staff as well as six building inspectors and two customer service representatives. And the rebuilding continues – a new public safety complex is under construction.
Charlotte County marked another milestone in its recovery from Hurricane Charley. The ribbon was cut today/yesterday and a new public works building in Punta Gorda. In addition to maintenance personnel the 7000 square foot building will also house – six building inspectors. Jim Evetts is director Building Construction Services – he predicts the inspectors will be in place just in time for another boom.
“when you compare our area to the counties around us we’ve never slowed down to the degree they have –we’ve had continuous interest and we’re sitting in the best area possible for when the boom starts again – more available lots, better prices – and charlotte county is a great place to live”
Evetts says there’s been a tremendous increase in commercial construction in recent months – and residential construction is picking up.
Thursday, 03 May 2007 01:00
Wednesday, 02 May 2007 01:00
More than 250 people took part in the Immigrants United for Freedom march in Immokalee Tuesday. Organizers say they sent letters to companies asking them to give workers the day off for the event, but they only received two or three positive responses. Last year an estimated 75 thousand people marched through Fort Myers in support of immigration reforms.
Fort Myers News Press opinion writer David Plazas, who is also the editor of Gazeta Tropicalle, says the paper is going to have a community conversation on Friday with an immigration lawyer. It’s the second such conversation. Plazas says certain themes, including the right to legalization, keep popping up.
“Every time I go into a restaurant, I certainly get approached by people who recognize me from Gazeta and ask when is this reform going to happen to us? When are we going to get some sort of amnesty, some say some sort of normalization.”
Plazas says that in 2000 there were about 42,000 Hispanics in Southwest Florida. Today there are nearly 80,000 – by all means not all illegal. But Plazas also says the area is seeing an exodus of immigrant workers due to lack of construction jobs and changing agricultural seasons.
A Plant City based organization with an office in Immokalee put on Tuesday’s local protest for immigration reform. There were other protests across Florida and the nation.
About 250 attended the event in Immokalee where they carried signs saying “We are not terrorists, we are honest workers and taxpayers” and “Illegals are workers not delinquents”.
Fort Myers News Press editor of Gazeta Tropicalle David Plazas, says in preparing for the rally there was some trepidation by the organizers as to whether there was going to be a march at all.
“There was a division that some said we’re going to be exposing these marchers to a potential immigration raids and so certainly there is that tremendous fear based up on some raids over the past couple of months and also based upon just the lack of action from the federal government to create some process, whether it be a normalization or some sort of ability to get legalized.”
The News Press supports President Bush’s plan which would include an earned citizenship and guest worker program as well as some ways to require people to learn English and become involved in civic society.
Tuesday, 01 May 2007 01:00
This year’s 35th annual Special Olympics games were held at the University of South Florida in Tampa. They cost 350 thousand dollars. There are more than 2000 Florida athletes, competing in six events with one mission: To win.
Organizers say it was a tremendous success. And to keep the games successful and competitive in the future, state Special Olympics officials tell local chapters they better diversify their funding sources. John Sepulvado reports.