Throwback Thursday: Aftermath of the Sister Storms

Epiphyte, Hammock plant, Hurricane, Orchid, Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area

Hurricanes like fire are defining part of the natural history of Florida’s ecosystems. Today, June 1, 2017, marks the beginning of the annual Hurricane Season.

The sister storms of 2004 dramatically altered the constitution of the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area. Hurricane Frances landed near Stuart on September 5, 2004 as a category 2 storm and moved slowly, painfully slowly, up the coast.  Hurricane Jeanne, a cat 3 storm, landed near Stuart not far from where Frances came ashore, on September 26, 2004. In between the significant Sister Storms, Tropical Depression Ivan, a hurricane when it struck the panhandle, circled back over Florida to drop more than 10 inches of rain on us.

Above is one of the few pictures taken at ORCA immediately after the Sister Storms in early October, when Brandon McKenzie, shown below, led a group through the tangle of devastation …

That group included Judy Avril (Class of Fall 1999) in the foreground, Sue Thompson (Class of Fall 1999) and Pearl McKenzie (Class of Fall 1998) …

Gayle Peters (Class of Winter 1999) was there, too ..

Progress was slowed by fallen cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto), live oaks (Quercus virginiana), slash pines (Pinus elliottii var. densa), and other vegetation …

All progress was stopped by a mass of mangroves blocking passage over the first wetland crossover bridge …

Sally Wilson (Class of 2003) and her sister paused on the bench to ponder …

The remnants of the large live oaks that fell in the hammock loop area still remain quite visible. Those oaks stood through the long lashing by Hurricane Frances and might have been able to withstand fast-moving Hurricane Jeanne were it not for the 10+ inches of rain dumped by Tropical Storm Ivan and held by the hardpan layer of soil.

Dramatically increased sunlight facilitated the expansion of invasive pest plant populations and weed growth, as well as scalded epiphytes acclimated to shady conditions like the butterfly orchid (Encyclia tameness) shown below …

Hurricane Matthew moved through swiftly this October and caused only limited damage. The live oaks stood tall and shed lots of leaves and small branches to allow the winds to blow through them, so increased sunlight has reached the hammock floor.

While the devastation was substantial in 2004, what is most remarkable is how well much of ORCA fared and how swiftly recovery came, though some reminders do remain, especially the skeletons of the downed live oaks in the hammock loop area.