Tropical Storm Debby formed off the Gulf Coast June 23 northwest of Tampa with a poorly defined center and no obvious direction of travel. But as the wind field grew wider while it remained almost stationery, the effects of the tropical moisture with persistent rainfall and wind wore away the resistance of beaches and its inhabitants.
By Monday June 25, constant battering by 20 – 40 mph wind and 10″-16″ of rain took its toll on shorelines and low lying property. Combined with high tides, a 2-3 foot storm surge poured over seawalls, rose up through storm drains and flooded streets and yards.
Saturated ground had nowhere to drain. Streets and yards remained covered with water even as the tide dropped but the surge raised the sea-level. Onshore wind pushed the sea state higher over the shore. Softened soil and gusty winds uprooted some trees and sent limbs and palm fronds flying.
Not so for the wildlife here. With loggerhead and green turtle nesting season at its peak, and a record year in progress, over 116 nests with about 100 eggs each were washed away by pounding surf and high water as the sand dunes yielded to the onslaught. Anna Maria Turtle Watch scrambled to relocate nests but were able to save only a few eggs for later replacement in the sand. The hopes for a successful hatching season were dashed. Only state-permitted staff of Anna Maria Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring can handle federally protected turtles and nests. (Call 941-778-5638 if you see threatened turtles or eggs).
Valuable areas of nesting shorebirds such as skimmers and terns were inundated. Wildlife Inc responded to the desperate birds’ plight of drowned skimmer chicks, on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. A few lucky birds were rescued but many died in the process. Baby herons, owls and songbirds were blown from tree nests and brought to the Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation Center. (Call 941-778-6324 for wildlife rescue).
Meanwhile T.S. Debby continued to pound the Florida Gulf Coast while it slowly moved towards Cedar Key and broke rainfall records and flood levels in many areas far away from the center of what would normally be considered a minor strength storm.