Did Hurricane Idalia help cool the ocean temps?

Cooler waters bring short-term relief to struggling coral reefs

Idalia satellite image (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The record-breaking ocean temperatures have been a big story lately, with sea surface temperatures reaching all-time highs during July and August. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a staggering 48% of the Earth’s oceans are presently undergoing marine heat waves.

And that is very much the case in the water around Florida. In late July, buoy data recorded some of the hottest ocean temperatures ever recorded along the Florida Keys.

Unfortunately, these extreme conditions are taking a toll on the marine life in and around the Great Florida Reef. By the end of July, 100% of the coral reef was experiencing a bleaching event with the entirety of the Florida Keys at “Alert Level 2″ conditions, meaning that if bleaching continues, mortality of our coral will be likely.

According to marine biologists, one way to help bring some relief to our coral reefs would be tropical activity over those hot spots, which is where Hurricane Idalia plays a role.

This is because a storm passing over the ocean absorbs heat from the ocean to fuel development. This in turn cools the ocean, giving marine life a small break. Storms also help mix the water, called upwelling, by bringing up cooler water from deeper in the ocean.

Latest maps show that Idalia did just that over the span of several days over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The warm waters sucked up by Idalia helped the storm rapidly intensify, while also cooling the waters by 1-1.5 degrees Celsius. This can be seen with the areas shaded in blue from the Yucatan Channel to the west coast of Florida.

SST Anomoly in the past 7 days

The cooler changes can also be seen in the waters in the wake of Hurricane Franklin, which absorbed enough ocean heat to intensify into a major hurricane.

The latest data shows that in the wake of Idalia, current sea surface temperatures are running a bit closer to the average in the mid 80s.

Current Sea Surface Temperatures

Although a cooler change is a step in the right direction for marine life, tropical activity only brings a small break and not a drastic dent to the long-term heat wave.

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About the Author:

Candace Campos joined the News 6 weather team in 2015.