Experts will not know until next week whether Hurricane Michael, with its powerful winds, helped break up the toxic algae bloom that has been plaguing Florida's coastline for the past year.
As a general rule, increased winds can be detrimental to "red tide," breaking it up and bringing an end to the outbreak. But increased rainfall could bring more breeding grounds for the algae, making a bad situation even worse.
Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday, packing winds that hit 150 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
"If we use Hurricane Katrina as a replication of what happened on the Panhandle yesterday, there are good reasons to think that the strong winds disrupted the the red tide," said Serge Thomas, an associate professor in the Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University.
That was the case with Katrina in 2005, which swept through the Gulf of Mexico, disrupting the algae.
The current bloom has persisted since October 2017, but intensified and spread further up the Panhandle as a result of Tropical Storm Gordon in September 2018, according to NOAA.
The effects of red tide can be lethal, with the potential to kill birds, sea animals and shellfish in the affected areas. The odor also chases away beachgoers. Not to mention that toxins released into the air can cause respiratory problems, making some beaches less safe to visit and hurting tourism in the area. Those with chronic asthma or emphysema are at a greater risk.
Consuming filter-feeder mollusks such as oysters and clams from red tide water can lead to neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. While not lethal, NSP can cause diarrhea and discomfort for about three days, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.