The year 2013 is off to a sunny start with a very warm first weeks on Anna Maria Island. In contrast to the typical January’s cool air and fog, January, 2013, has been balmy so far. The temperature has passed 80 degrees on many days. Even the cold fronts have not brought frigid weather.
Warm weather on the island in January has its pros and cons. It’s nice not to have to turn on the heat, but this year many people’s air conditioners are still running.
Even though the island is at the northernmost point at which coconut palms can survive, it’s not surprising that from time to time they are wiped out. In the past few years, Anna Maria Island has lost many of its beautiful coconut palms. Very cold temperatures either killed them immediately or damaged them enough that they have not thrived and have been vulnerable to insect pests and disease. The warm temperatures have been very good news for some of the more cold-sensitive plants. It’s fortunate for the trees that recent cold winters have not been followed by even more cold, but, unfortunately, warm temperatures also help encourage pests.
This season one such insect pest is the new species of whitefly that has been moving from south Florida north, attacking many subtropical trees, palms, fruit-bearing plants and ornamentals.
Even the cold of a more typical winter probably would not have been enough to permanently eradicate this new and destructive pest. But in this particularly warm winter, these insects are likely to thrive and spread through our neighborhoods. Whitefly lay white eggs on leaves and fronds, become larvae that excrete sticky residue, and then becomes black with mold. The black mold kills plants underneath by inhibiting photosynthesis.
Another unwelcomed result of warm weather in January may be the red tide algal bloom, which affected the island in the middle of the month. The 140-mile-long bloom was mostly to our south, killing lots of fish, which washed ashore in Sarasota.
Anna Maria Island was at the northern end of the bloom, and we, too, had a few dead fish on the beach. But most noticeable were the fumes from the algae, when the wind was onshore. The respiratory irritation from the fumes made it unpleasant to spend time on the beach. Surprisingly, most evenings before sunset, there were still some people sitting and walking on the beach apparently unaffected.
Fortunately, signs of red tide have not been noticed on the bay side of the island, and the mullet fishermen have had comfortable temperatures to pursue their work. Recreational fishing has been good, too, with redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, snook and pompano caught.
As this report is being written in the middle of the month, there is still time for some cold weather, but, so far, islanders and visitors have been spared any extremely cold spells. It has been a pleasure to be outside this winter. Robinson Preserve has been full of people, as have the beaches and outdoor restaurants.