Frigid Flounder and a 1,700-foot Tsunami
Yes, those were rolls of thunder at the tail end of that Sunday soaker – sounding like tsunamis. (More on that cheery tsunami matter down below.) Over on LBI, we got four distinct thunder rumbles. Yes, thunder is rare enough in January that it warrants a (thunder) head count.
It’s way too early to say we have seen the worst of winter but there are some high-flying jet stream indicators indicating temperature normalcy is moving in –and apparently unpacking for a goodly stay. What’s the norm? A winter’s day on LBI should bandy about highs in the low to even mid 40s and lows around freezing, but occasionally inching down to the mid-20s.
I know I write this every deep freeze but it’s worth repeated re-mentionings: A solid ice-over of the bay – like we had last week -- is excellent for the ecosystem. A good cool-down wipes out certain deleterious free-floating bacteria and also offers the proper hibernational rest for the likes of shellfish, crustaceans and over-wintering fish. Crabbers have long said that a solid freeze makes for better blue claw counts come spring and summer.
IMPORTANT: The United States Coast Guard is now chiming in on the February 8 end of Loran-C transmissions. This is not a test. The Coasties suggest becoming totally proficient at GPS-ing.
I’m looking into one of those angler Tom-Toms. You just travel through the inlet and it sounds off: “Turn left just past the Bell Buoy. Travel 2 miles north. Cut engines. Ready your rods. Use 3-ounce bank sinker today. Place squid/minnie combination on gold 2/0 curved hook. No, not that minnie. It’s too small. That’s better. Drop line approximately 22 feet down. Grab beverage. Open. The spray just got me wet. Be more careful. …”
FLOUNDER LOUNGE IN FRIGIDITY: As for overwintering fish, winter flounder are at their healthiest after a long frigid winter’s nap. They’re nice and fat. Some scientists believe the blackbacks shore-up during the winter by dining on frozen dinners – brazed grass shrimp atop marine worms on one section of the aluminum plate, spicy eelgrass with sesame seeds on another and finally this pathetically paltry portion of cherry crisp tucked in the corner. Other scientists believe that the colder the winter the slower the flounder’s metabolism burns off stored fat gained from summering in chilly waters, well off the coastline.
“I tell you, Mildred, I don’t feel like I lost a single ounce this entire winter.”
“Don’t worry, Helen, it was just a very frigid winter, besides, you’re just big boned.”
Anyway, winter flounder take even subfreezing temps in a cool, calm and collected manner – as if they had ice in their veins, which they don’t – somewhat inexplicably. Seems winter flounder have very cool organic antifreeze in their system. In fact, cryogenically-inclined researchers are hot on singling out the flounder’s freeze-not formula. They’re trying their hardest to ferret out the bottom-feeder’s exact blood ingredients in hopes of someday freezing humans – likely in lieu of layoffs. “Look, Fred, the bottom line isn’t so good right now so we’re going to have to freeze you solid until better economics times. We’ll call your wife and make up some good excuse why you won’t be home for dinner – for next decade or so.”
Blackbacks aren’t the only piscatorial presence in our winter bays. Many folks don’t realize how many striped bass now spend the icy months bottoming inside deeper holes near Holgate (113) and Harvey Cedars. And that’s a majorly healthy thing. During freeze-bearing periods, those resident bass are chill-cleaned of any Mycobacterium sp bacteria contracted after brushes with perpetually-infected Chesapeake bass. Such coldwater microbe-ridding also takes place up rivers related to the coastline, like the Mullica.
The real sufferers during a wicked winter freeze are mudflat hard-shell clams residing on bayside LBI, the type clams we over-scratch down in Holgate. These luckless mollusks, those that survive dozens of rakers, are pretty much unprotected from a freeze during low tides. In fact, they’re right smack in the crosshairs of frigid westerly winds ripping across the bay.
It’s not like Jersey clams don’t realize they’re in trouble. The problem is they can take the entire summer migrating toward warmer climes and only make it about three inches southward.
“Is it feeling any warmer to you yet, Hal?”
“Not really. But, I think I just saw a manatee.”
BAD CLAMS!: Not many years back, I had this dull-roar hankering for some Holgate clams -- the world’s finest mollusks, bar none. The Island was just backing out of a deep February freeze that left the south end mudflats stacked with layer upon layer of blown-in ice sheets. It looked a lot like the Great White North Wall of China, or somewhere like that. I managed to find some mud areas where the rapid melt had eaten through the ice. I began scratching clam keyholes (air holes) and got on a role and a half. Clams were showing every whichaway. It was so good I began to get suspicious. Clamming is never that easy. The thing is the collected clams were all closed tight and right.
I gathered about 100 little necks and headed out -- clam and melted butter taste buds rising up to great the arriving appetizers.
I might have told this tale before, but one of the worst stinks I’ve ever loosed upon my humble Ship Bottom home – and there has been many a stink, compliments of everything from secreted bunker chunks to forgotten bags of finger mullet – was the stench from those clams as I steamed them. The stench was rank beyond repair. I pondered simply burning the house down. Turns out that damn near every clam I collected had been dead, killed by the freeze but frozen shut.
To some degree, the vile stinkification didn’t make sense. Logically, even if the clams had been dead, they should have been just fine, having been fresh frozen. Well, something illogical and/or evil must take place during clam dead time. Most likely, the clams had frozen and died at low tide but thawed as warmer bay water moved in during higher tide. They went through who knows how many freezes, and thaws – and bouts of bay rot, as mud and cold-loving decaying agents moved in. Again, they were likely in a frozen-shut phase when I dug them
Final testimony to how hideous they were: I rushed the pot of rotten clams out of the house and chucked them into the back yard, where my resident gulls, which will eat anything, picked at the clam meat, gagged and glared at me with a gull wrath that had me running back in for my faux-autographed Roger Maris baseball bat. I’m an Alfred Hitchcock baby.
EARTHQUAKE SANS TSUNAMI – THIS TIME:
I cringe and commiserate over the horrible earthquake that ripped apart Haiti, one of the poorest nations on the planet. Fiscally, Haiti is down there with many low-end African nations. The tiny island-nation has also been all but leveled by three Cat 4/5 hurricanes in recent years. It’s just not fair. Hopefully, we’ll all rally to help out those desperately destitute folks.
I want to point out one very local, very disconcerting (as in terrifying) aspect of that quake, a 7.3 on the Richter scale. As the gull flies, it was very close to us -- and easily capable of producing a tsunami of coast-crushing proportions. By the time we even got wind of the fearsome quake, any associated tidal wave generate by it would have consumed us in a broth of mangled debris and 38-degree water.
We all still hold the images of the tsunamis that killed hundreds of thousands of folks in the Pacific in 2004. Samoa has been hit by a tidal wave since then. Many of the places destroyed by the deadly waves were stunned that it could happen to them. We’d be offering the same bemoanings, despite scientists openly assuring tsunamis can easily happen here. In fact, there is a fractured volcanic island in the Canary Islands that is geologically poised to fall into the sea. It’s not a “maybe” thing, it’s a “when” thing. That will send a wave directly at the U.S. Eastern Seaboard that, by some predictions, will be over 100 feet high – and traveling between 500 to (astoundingly) 1,000 mph.
I can guarantee that you, me and that guy over there harbor the same Houdini cockiness when considering the possibility/likelihood of a someday tsunami hitting here. We’d adroitly get early word of the approaching monster wave and lithely slip inland with tons of time to spare. Hell, we’d even grab our most valued possessions and consider notifying everyone we consider save-worthy.
Well, you can take that high-flight notion and flush it down the toilet -- the flushing action being highly akin to a tsunami washover. The quake in Haiti proved that we won’t get so much as a preparatory peep about the approaching peril.
Not long ago I asked a top local politico (known as “Bulldog”) why the once air raid siren warning system is no longer in place, except for a nuclear plant snafu. He said (gospel truth): “People would just panic if they heard a bunch of sirens going off.” Damn straight we’d panic! I have a saying, “Panic makes perfect.” It also makes adrenaline. When the panic-driven traffic backs up on the Causeway bridge, that sound you hear smashing down on your rooftop will be me jumping from roof to roof like some frickin’ tsunami-chased gazelle.
Sure this all purely alarmism on my part but I have thought this out and accompanying my theory of roof-leaping to high ground, I have an even craftier escapee plan – one you seldom read within Google sites under “How to survive a tsunami.” I developed this plan by watching wildebeest being stalked by lionesses. The over hairy cow-like creatures, actually follow the big cats, literally staring them down. Going right at them as it were.
My theory: The best chance to survive a locomotive tsunami is to bolt right at it. If you have a boat near either LBI inlet and can get a mile out to sea before impact. A PWC would rule. Hell, dollars to donuts, you could paddle a surfboard, kayak or paddleboard out to the survival zone, even with a mere 30-minute head start.
I published this theory in my daily blog (http://jaymnntoday.ning.com
) and got this response.
Email: Jay - It's been coming for a long time, but now you've done it.... you have officially gone off the edge...you've lost it. What kind of boat/pwc could possibly go through or over a 50-to 100-foot fast-moving wave. Are you for real?…Geo. H.”
I know it sounds weird, Geo, but I'm right as rain on that PWC/boat/surfboard escape-the-tsunami thing.
A tsunami is more of a surge than an actual wave. As a tsunami moves though deep water at hundreds of miles an hour, it is barely noticeable above the waterline. A tsunami is typically no more than 3 feet high until it gets close to shore. The areas of greatest risk during a tsunami strike are within 1 mile of the shoreline -- and that's due to water surge and scattered debris being pulled back out after it surges across the land.
During the Indonesian tsunami, boats out past the reef -- some doing scuba dives -- experienced the passing soon-to-be 30-foot tidal surge as an odd rise in the ocean, which didn't go down for many seconds.
Here’s one report: “The people who were out diving were the lucky ones who happened to be in the right place at the right time, same goes for people who were out on boats. The tsunami mainly affected the people on the shore because that's where the tide goes out an abnormally long way and hits the shore as a wave.”
More: “Many of those dive boats only reported a meter high wave out where they were. At most, the divers in the vicinity would have just dropped and then risen that meter or so in the water column with perhaps a surge towards open ocean then back to shore as the tsunami approached (initially dropping the water level, then rising up again as the wave passed). Knocked around a bit but that would be about it if the water level was deep enough.”
ANYONE FOR A 1,700-FOOT TSUNAMI?:
The most amazing survival story related to a tsunami comes from Lituya Bay, Alaska, where a 1958 earthquake led to a massive ice/landslide, that presented itself as a deafening explosion. The water displacement from the slide instantly launched a 1,700-foot wall/wave of water within the long narrow bay. By way of comparison, the Empire State Building is something like 1,200 feet tall.
The Lituya Bay tsunami event was very well documented. There was the (still-existent) geological evidence of surrounding cliffs scoured of all vegetation 1,700 feet up their sides. But the real recounting came from fishermen in the bay on boats at the time of the earthquake, ice/landslide and tsunami. Reports by those fishermen in the bay at the time told of an approaching, seeming end-of-the-world wall of water bearing down on them and their boats. The wall of water – not a wave, per se -- lifted the boats, then sort of poured them forward. One survivor likened it to slipping down the surface of a wave that is cresting but isn’t quite breaking. The boats somehow remained upright, as they literally slid forward, toward land. Then, to the salvation of the mariners, the boats were released as the water hit land, losing some of its energy. The rebound backwash, as the wave retreated from land, took the boats back in the other direction, almost to the spot they were originally sitting. Can you even vaguely imagine those men as they just sat there afterwards? Of course, there was likely that one guy who rubbed his hands together and said, “So, who’s up for a beer?”