FOW Archive: Of Dolphins and Downbursts

This article was originally published in The Dolphin Talk Newspaper in April of 2012.


If you were up early enough on the morning of April 2nd, you might have noticed that we had a thunderstorm that got a little out of control. That was especially true if you rode out the storm in Port Lavaca.

That was because Port Lavaca fell victim to a weather event called a ‘downburst’

The April 2nd downburst created winds up to 80 MPH along a ½ mile wide radius, causing damage to trees and windows in the area while also knocking down telephone poles and damaging the roof of a Port Lavaca business.

A downburst is created on the interior of a thunderstorm. A downburst can also create damage similar to a tornado, as some downbursts can contain winds over 150 MPH. Unlike a tornado, however, a downburst spreads out from the spot it touches the Earth, giving it a sort of ‘roll’ effect.

A downburst usually forms on the gust front of the storm. These kinds of wind events, like high straight-line winds, can also cause heavy damaged to cutters, sailboats and other craft.

It all begins when hail or large drops of rainfall into drier air. As the hail melts and the raindrops evaporate, the air cools. Then the air falls as a kind of ‘cool air bubble’ that hits the ground and acts as a front, spreading it’s damaging wind and also usually causing a quick drop in temperature.

Usually, this kind of phenomena is part of a squall line storm, where storm cells have organized themselves into a broken or unbroken line of storms.

As this squall line entered the Port Lavaca area that night it shot 80 MPH winds over a two-mile area.

Dolphins Found:

Six bottlenose dolphins were found dead on Powderhorn Beach between Indianola and Port O’ Connor late last month. Although the authorities said these particular dolphin carcasses were too decomposed to be able to find out the reason behind their demise, it leads me to seek out a bit more information about one of the probable causes of their deaths.

Dolphin Stranding:

The theories about dolphin stranding are very diverse as everything from echolocation processing, where the dolphins mistake the beach for the open ocean, pollution in the water (although our recent local bout with Red Tide has been dismissed as a factor in the Calhoun County stranding)  and being chased by a predator up onto land.

This mystery of nature can also cause large numbers of dolphins to die at one time. Earlier this year, estimated forty-fifty dolphins stranded themselves off Cape Cod, where scientists believe the unusual topography of the coast might be to blame for the commonness of stranding seen there.

Another amazing stranding occurred this month on a Brazilian beach where beachgoers helped an estimated thirty or more dolphins return to the water after they threw themselves upon the beach. The sight was even caught on camera and can be seen on YouTube.

The plight of the dolphins who strand themselves and the mystery of the cause behind it is yet another opportunity for this area to aid in a more important task then stretches beyond the borders of our small communities.
Thomas Spychalski 

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