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NOAA Oceanographer says this year's red tide season looks similar to 2018

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Posted at 3:44 PM, Sep 24, 2021

Many people along the coastal counties spent weeks dealing with an intense bout of red tide back in July, but the normal season for it is right around the corner.

After dealing with extreme fish kills over the summer, most of us would think red tide has come and gone, but that's not the case.

"We're actually in an abnormal year this year," Dr. Rick Stumpf, "Typically a bloom in the summer is unusual and the summer blooms like this one are actually carry over from last year's bloom."

Red tide season normally starts in September and fizzles out by early winter. Dr. Stumpf said this year's timeline looks really similar to 2018.

"It was not too bad in Pinellas in August, but in Sarasota county, Manatee County, it was terrible in August and late July. And then it showed up in Pinellas county in September," he said.

We asked Florida Fish and Wildlife for red tide maps from the last few years. Since 2017, Septembers are usually quiet with zero to few spots seeing any of the toxic algae. But in 2018 and 2021, the maps are covered in red and orange dots showing medium to high concentrations.

We're also seeing the algae stretch well beyond its season in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2021. Dr. Stumpf said there could be several factors affecting that, one of them being a shift in weather patterns.

"Those winds in 2018 and this past winter kind of fizzled out. So instead of getting the steady wind pushing the bloom away kind of stopped in January and February," Dr. Stumpf said. "Could it be it's the question of climate change?"

Dr. Stumpf's team is looking into the situation at Piney Point, but they don't have enough data at this point to make a decision. He says rainfall and its runoff could also affect the growth of toxic algae.

But he can say for certain, through forecasts and prior data, we're days away from the peak of red tide across the bay.

"October in Pinellas county is historically when they have the most blooms. So we're coming into what might be the peak," Dr. Stumpf said.