What would-be tourists in their right mind are likely to pack up and head for the "clean, clear" water of Pensacola Beach ... when the forecast comes from something called "DisasterResponse.com?"
1. Pensacola Area.
As of mid-morning, the oil slick widely reported to be just a few miles offshore still was not visible from Pensacola Beach. Orange booms are at the ready along shorelines but not yet stretched across vulnerable sea lanes such as Pensacola Pass and the narrow entrance to Little Sabine Bay. Both are still open for boat traffic.
Occasional brief but intense rain storms this morning came from the southwest. Consistent with that, all local media are reporting that winds and water currents will be unfavorable over the next three days, very likely pushing BP's oil from the south and west onto local beaches and into bayous and estuaries connected with Gulf waters.
"Several areas of sheen were spotted as close as 7 1/2 miles from Pensacola Pass on Tuesday," the Pensacola News Journal report. Later this morning, it also updated that news with this: "Oil sheen was reported by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approximately six miles from Navarre Pier in Santa Rosa County today."
The PNJ adds:
Any potential impacts to Florida’s shoreline will be highly weathered, in the form of tar balls, oil sheen, tar mats or mousse – a pudding-like oil/water mixture that could be brown, rust or orange in color.To see an animated graphic of the expected winds through the weekend, click here for the Windmapper.
Or, you could simply reason out our dim prospects from the sudden appearance of national media. That's a sure sign things are about to get visually much worse.
If anyone feeds off delicious disaster pictures, it's the Tee-Vee pod people. You will know them by their perfectly coiffed hair and the crocodile tears in their eyes.
2. What Lies Beneath.
Using huge shears rather than the diamond-edged saw blade that got stuck in the well riser yesterday, BP managed to sever the riser pipe this morning. The New York Times explains:
Delicately manipulating a 20-foot-long shear at depths of nearly a mile, technicians successfully snipped a key riser pipe in their effort to contain the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. They prepared to cap the remaining pipe later in the day with a dome that they hoped would allow them to funnel the oil to tankers on the surface.As a consequence, there is an increased risk "that oil may escape and that the cap itself could become filled with hydrates, ice-like crystals of gas and water that form at low temperatures and high pressures."
Adm. Thad W. Allen, who is commanding the federal response to a spill that has been called the nation’s worst environmental disaster, told a news conference in Metairie, La. that the cut was “ a significant step forward.” But he cautioned that using as shear, rather than a finer diamond-laced wire saw, as the slicing instrument resulted in a jagged cut that will mean the containment cap will fit less snugly.
3. Surface Surfactants.
With this latest setback, it seems inevitable we will be living with the recurrent fear of new oil invasions on Pensacola Beach for months ahead. When, how thoroughly, and how often the beach will need to be cleaned is as yet undetermined. It's entirely possible it will become at least a daily event.
Hotels may be stocking up right now on Tarroff Towelettes for their guest rooms. But that could be an overly optimistic move. Will there be any tourists left who could use them? Not that many, we fear.
4. Disaster Response: 'C'mon In, the Water's Fine!'
The oil catastrophe has put local businesses and government agencies in a pickle. If they tell the truth, who would want to waste precious family vacation time and money playing dodge-the-tarballs on our beaches? On the other hand, if they don't tell the whole truth they risk alienating forever all those who rely on a too-optimistic description of current conditions.
The dilemma is illustrated all too well by an "alert" we received in our email box this morning from the Escambia County Disaster Response team:
The message is true enough, as far as it goes at this hour -- and maybe the next. But what would-be tourists in their right mind are likely to pack up and head for the "clean, clear" water of Pensacola Beach or Perdido Key when the forecast comes from something called "DisasterResponse.com"?
The dilemma is reminiscent of one we encountered twenty-five years ago. At the time we were living far away from the Gulf Coast. Our dear mother (now deceased) was living out her final years in Ft. Walton Beach. We would fly down to visit her regularly, and thus became acquainted with the only local newspaper in town at that time.
It was known as the Playground Daily News. It was an absolutely awful newspaper, printed on the cheap so badly that the black ink came off in your hands as you turned the pages. Some locals we came to know actually acquired the habit of donning gloves before they would sit down and touch the newspaper.
Typically, each issue was six or eight pages long. Advertisements made up more than half the copy. As for actual news, most of it consisted of engagement announcements, marriages, hospital admissions, civic and social club awards, and the like. The rest of the "news" was almost always happy, happy, happy stuff.
There were, as we recall, surprisingly few obituaries and none whatsoever about the occasional drowning. An entire county full of people could have sunk out of sight in the waters off Ft. Walton Beach and the Playground Daily News would not have had room to mention it.
In winter, we often encountered Canadian tourists at the local convenience store where we went to seek out a real, imported, newspaper. We noticed the Canadians always bought the local paper; many almost immediately would turn to page two, where the Playground Daily News printed the daily weather report. They would glance at the page, grunt with satisfaction, and, as we supposed, head off for their rented condo.
Invariably, the weather forecast as related by the Playground Daily News was "warm and sunny." It might be raining buckets outside, or even snowing, but inside the pages of that Ft. Walton Beach newspaper perfect beach weather was always in the offing.
One day, we finally asked a Canadian snowbird who had just purchased the paper if he hadn't noticed that the local weather report was pure hokum, ginned up (as we supposed) to keep tourists like him from heading farther south or going home.
"Of course," he said. "The wife and I don't even read it. We just mail it back home to make everyone there jealous." [Update below]
5. Cams, Cams, and More Cams.
For much of the early morning today, BP's spillcam was down and showing nothing. But BP Corp. has a number of others which it hasn't been especially eager to share with the public.
Through the magic of the Internet Tubes, however, they've been discovered on-line. And several are hard at work. For alternative robotic views of what's going on a mile below the Deepwater Horizon site, click here or here.
"If you lie to people to bring them down to the coast," he says, "they’ll leave angry and won’t be back. But if you tell them the truth, they will believe you when you tell them it is alright to return."
Unless, that is, they're inclined to lie to their friends, like the Canadian we mentioned.