Rare November 1999 Hurricane Reveals Impacts of Ancient Storms
Date: Nov. 14, 2000
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Archive: Research News
Photos by: Colleen Kelley and David Meyer
Cincinnati -- The waves of destruction from Hurricane Lenny
which swept "backward" across the Caribbean in 1999 is helping
geologists understand what happened to sea creatures hundreds of
millions of years ago.
University of Cincinnati geologist David
Meyer will explain the connection during a talk Tuesday, Nov. 14
during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in
Reno, Nevada, as part of a special session devoted to "Tropical
Marine Paleoenvironments Through Time."
Meyer is an expert scuba diver who has made many trips to the Caribbean over the
years to document coral reefs and other animals living on the sea
floor. He's also a paleontologist interested in what happend in
the seas during the Silurian and Ordovician more than 400 million
So, he was in a perfect position to document the
effects of Hurricane Lenny which moved in a rare west-to-east
track through the Caribbean Nov. 16-21, 1999 affecting islands
such as Bonaire and Curacao which rarely get hit by hurricane-
force winds. "This was a completely backward storm," said Meyer.
"Waves at least 10 feet high hit a side of the islands that
hardly ever gets hit. It's truly a 100-year storm."
Using underwater video and photography, Meyer, his wife Kani and
graduate student Peter Lask captured images of Hurricane Lenny's
damage in the waters off the coast of Bonaire. One of the most
striking effects was the toppling of coral pillars 2-3 meters
high. Meyer estimates the largest was hundreds of years old.
"Those coral heads only add about one centimeter a year in
thickness, and the storm knocked the whole thing over. It tore up
everything in its path."
Hurricane Lenny also sent waves laden
with coral and rock crashing onto the shores of Bonaire. At one
point, the rubble was 15-20 feet high. By the time Meyer and the
other geologists returned to Bonaire, most had been cleared away.
However, there were still many beaches covered by rocky
By documenting how the hurricane affected the coral
reefs of Bonaire, Meyer and other geologists will be better able
to interpret the effects of ancient storms. "We see similar
features in fossil reefs...the impact of rare storms," explained
Meyer. "This connects present-day processes and the fossil
history of reefs."
Examples of similar features can be found in
Silurian fossil beds in Adams County, Ohio and parts of Indiana.