Tuesday, Oct. 12


U.S. weather highlights for the past week

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[OCT. 12, 2004] 

Western U.S.

Mount St. Helens rumbles

For the first time in 18 years, Mount St. Helens in Washington came alive recently, spewing a huge column of white steam and ash. Seismologists with the U.S. Geological Survey predicted further eruptions are likely and issued an Alert Level 3. The warning levels range from 1 to 4, with a Level 4 issued when an eruption is occurring.

A major eruption is possible, which would send projectiles from the dome and crater floor skyward. Ash and smoke could ascend over 10,000 feet in the air and be taken downwind hundreds and even thousands of miles. Minor melting of a glacier could cause a debris flow which could affect nearby downstream communities.

The movement of Mount St. Helens is related to shifting of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. This is a continent-sized chunk of crust that floats atop the Earth's molten core. For centuries, Mount St. Helens has been the most active volcano in the Pacific Northwest because it lies along a particularly weak area of the crust.

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Eastern U.S.

Florida beaches in tough shape

Many of Florida's beaches, including a few of the most famous ones, have taken on a much different look after this season's parade of hurricanes. Tons of sand have been shifted, eroded or completely washed away, leaving a complicated and costly fix-up problem.

In the southwestern part of the state, Hurricane Charley tore a pass one-third of a mile wide through North Captiva Island. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, which followed nearly identical paths along the Atlantic Coast side of Florida, caused deep erosion at New Smyrna Beach that exposed building and home foundations. Parts of U.S. 1 in the Melbourne area were washed away.

In the Panhandle region, the sugary-white sand was pushed violently inland, burying street signs, park benches and cars before coming to a rest inside hundreds of homes. The sand is filled with bits and pieces of metal, wood, concrete, glass and other debris, which means it will have to be meticulously cleaned before it can be moved back into place.

Experts say it could take up to seven years to restore some of the beaches back to where they were before the hurricanes struck. And that's assuming no further damage occurs with future tropical systems.

Beaches are the cornerstone of Florida's tourist industry.  For every $1 spent on beach restoration, $8 in tourist spending occurs.


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