It’s strike two for Cape Romano as landfall for a tropical system

Fay in Everglades City

Cape Romano/Kice Island

South of Marco Island, Marco

— Peace and quiet usually reign on Cape Romano, but the isolated barrier island has its days at the eye of the storm.

One of them was Tuesday, when Tropical Storm Fay barreled ashore at the same spot on Collier County’s southern coastline where Hurricane Wilma made landfall in October 2005.

“Cape Romano seems to be a target,” said Gary Lytton, manager of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which includes Cape Romano.

The double-hit coincidence barely registered with weather-weary forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“It’s not unusual,” hurricane specialist Daniel Brown said.

In 2004, when hurricanes criss-crossed Florida in a seemingly endless parade of misery, Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Jeanne made landfall within a month of each other at the southern end of Hutchinson Island, near Stuart, on Florida’s east coast.

Wilma was packing 125 mph wind when it ravaged Cape Romano in 2005.

What was a wall of green the day before was left a naked forest of brown tree limbs.

For miles along the beach, the storm piled snapped-off tree trunks against the remaining trees, left standing but stripped of their leaves and bark.

Storm surge pushed sand into the bare mangrove forest, exposing gnarled roots and a layer of black peat.

Lytton said he doesn’t expect to find that sort of damage from Fay when reserve managers survey Cape Romano later this week.

Like Wilma, though, the storm will give researchers another chance to study how nature rebounds from natural disasters, Lytton said.

Scientists will use satellite technology to measure shoreline changes along Cape Romano, he said.

He said researchers also will sort through data recorded at buoys that measured temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen in the reserve before, during and after the storm.

Fay didn’t compare with Wilma’s fury, but Lytton said the storms teach the same lesson about preserving coastal barrier islands as a first line of defense against hurricanes.

Cape Romano’s tree-lined shore contrasts with the condominium towers that rise on Marco Island, across Caxambas Pass from Cape Romano’s northern end.

At the southern end of Cape Romano, a cluster of igloo-shaped buildings has been sliding into the Gulf of Mexico since they were built in 1982.

The “dome home” survived Wilma in 2005, and owner John Tosto has no doubt they survived Fay, too.

“We took Wilma straight on at 125 mph so 75 mph (predicted for Tropical Storm Fay) really didn’t scare us,” Tosto said.

Construction permits are in the works to raise each of the 60,000-pound pods to 23 feet above sea level and put them on top of steel girders pushed 45 feet into Cape Romano’s shifting sands, Tosto said.

Tosto said he plans to invite Jim Cantore, the Weather Channel’s ubiquitous hurricane chaser, to use the new-and-improved dome home as a backdrop for a live shot the next time a hurricane threatens Cape Romano.

If Wilma and Fay are any indication, Tosto might not have to wait long.

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