Tropical storms, hurricanes and flooded rivers can be incredibly destructive, but they also help uncover memories from the past. Severe weather can also toss items from cargo ships, wash valuables away during a tsunami or unearth precious metals during a hurricane.
Accuweather National Reporter Bill Wadell didn't mind getting dirty to take viewers along a journey with a history buff in New Orleans who searches for Louisiana's forgotten past.
"That's why we're out here. Saving history," New Orleans relic hunter Shane Mears told Wadell.
The muddy man on a mission wades along the banks of the Mississippi River and has been searching for unique finds since the 1980s when he first ventured out with his dad.
Bill Wadell interviewing Shane Mears on the bank of the Mississippi River about his treasures. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
"I do it for the thrills and the booty," Mears quipped. "The treasure," he added. "We're looking for old Civil War artifacts."
This hobby became a true passion for Mears after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Mears told Wadell he doesn't by any means hope for a tropical storm or hurricane to impact New Orleans again, but if such a storm does hit, he expects floodwaters to resurface more artifacts to be discovered.
Items Shane Mears has found in New Orleans, Louisiana, with a metal detector. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
The irony is not lost on Mears who explained that as the river has gone up and down over the years, the water has taken a lot with it, but it has also deposited a lot of artifacts.
As such, the treasure hunter keeps a close eye on the forecast and levee construction projects protecting the Big Easy to plan each expedition.
"The MinuteCast has just has been a blessing. I mean you look at that, it's so accurate," Mears said, referring to AccuWeather MinuteCast®, which is a forecast offering that highlights the exact start and end times as well as the intensity of precipitation for precise locations over the next four hours. The feature is available in the free AccuWeather app and on AccuWeather.com. "And looking in the river here, you know, when it starts to go down, that's when I need to come out and do my digging."
When the river levels drop, Mears and his exploration buddy, Susanna French, load up and head out with shovels, a probe and a metal detector.
Shane Mears and Susanna French looking for treasure along the Mississippi River with a metal detector. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
His adventures take him to dirty places that could be hiding prized possessions and pure gems.
"We started digging privies. That's my real deal. Digging in the toilets," Mears said.
"The deepest I've gone is over 15 feet, but this one, in particular, is about 8 feet deep and it's just incredible. It's dirty. If you see me dirty now, this is what I like," Mears said.
Shane Mears searching for historic relics in a privy, an old-fashioned term for an outhouse or what is now known as a restroom. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
Some discoveries, like unremarkable parts to an old ship, are disappointing; however, other finds are tough to put a price on, Mears explained to Wadell.
"We find buttons. We find old coins. Oldest coin I found was a half of a silver dollar, old civil Spanish real from 1876," he recalled, adding that some other major finds include a Republic of Texas belt buckle dating to around the 1830s. Mears has also turned up collectibles from the Louisiana militia in the early to mid-1800s as well as pelican buttons, which are a really rare find, he explained.
Items Shane Mears has found along the Mississippi River with a metal detector. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
The day before meeting with Wadell, Mears unearthed a first-place gold medal from the Mechanics and Agricultural Fair of New Orleans that was held in 1859.
"We just pulled it out yesterday at this privy I'm telling you about. It's an actual gold medal, 1859, says it right there, gold medal. And looking it up, it's so rare. I mean it's rare. I mean I'm lost for words it's so rare. We're excited about it," Mears said.
Although he's always on the search for more, Mears doesn't go out treasure hunting with any specific gems or valuables in mind.
"The minute that you start thinking about Lafitte's treasure or buried this and buried that, I think you go crazy and people already say I'm crazy," he said.
Shane Mears searching for artifacts along the Mississippi River in New Orleans, Louisiana. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
Jean Lafitte was a French pirate and privateer who was active in the Gulf of Mexico region from the early 19th century, and who is rumored to have buried treasure and gold in many locations, including sites along coastal Louisiana.
"I just let fate guide me and you can't just think about it. But I tell you: Fate's been good to me. It's been, been really, really good, knock on wood. So let's just keep it going," Mears said.
Mears has a personal collection at home and said he shares the rest of the treasures he digs up with local libraries.
Reporting by Bill Wadell.
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