PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to start putting out a first of its kind air quality forecast to keep residents and visitors safe during red tide.
Beach conditions across Pinellas County’s 35 miles of shoreline have drastically improved. However, the bloom lingers as close as two miles offshore.
On Tuesday, two offshore samples taken from two miles off of Redington Beach and 3.5 miles off Indian Rocks Beach showed high concentrations of red tide, but winds out of the east combined with weaker sea breezes are expected to weaken the red tide impacts throughout the week.
Starting next week, NOAA and Pinellas County hope to publicly release the new air quality forecast, which should give you another tool to access whether you should make a trip to the beach.
Red tide can cause coughing, sneezing, tearing eyes, an itchy throat, wheezing and even more severe symptoms for those with asthma, COP, and other breathing issues.
Currently, it’s not possible to know exactly which beaches have toxins in the air, however, the new air quality report will be so specific that you’ll be able to plan your trip to the beach based on how good the air quality will be in the morning, afternoon or evening.
Pinellas County is currently taking water samples four days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Those samples, combined with satellite data, wind speed, and wind direction will help the agencies put out a new forecast every three hours.
“That way people can look and say ‘okay, Madeira Beach will be great for my morning walk along the beach, but the air quality won’t be as great in the afternoon. Instead, I’ll take my kids to play at Clearwater Beach this evening,'” explained Barb Kirkpatrick of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association.
Pinellas County’s new forecast will be the first of its kind in the nation. The groups hope to expand it out to the rest of the state if the program is successful.
Scientists are calling this red tide bloom the worst in a decade, and toxins in the wind can travel up to a mile inland with a strong enough breeze.
The new monitoring system is crucial to Alison Gargiulo, who suffers from asthma. She has been checking the daily beach reports in order to decide if she should visit the beach or even go outside, considering she lives near the water in Pinellas County.
“I love this idea. It would ease up my thought process. Sometimes it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I just can’t catch my breath,” she explained.