Hurricane Matthew poses a major threat to the U.S. southeast coast, thanks to its strength, breadth and forecast duration traversing the Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina (as of current predictions). Projected to approach the southeast Florida coast as a Category 4 storm, forecasts show it moving northward in close proximity to the coast for upwards of 36 hours – with an uncertain track making a continued hostile wave climate likely to attack the southeast coastlines for days to come.
This kind of multi-day, multi-tide cycle storm events wreak havoc on even the healthiest of shorelines – meaning coasts with wide sandy beaches, high vegetated dunes and well-built structures elevated to avoid the worst of the waves and surge. These healthy shorelines will still suffer damages in a storm such as Matthew, but each of the elements that define a healthy beach will help protect the upland property and habitat in a unique way, while also greatly reducing the human suffering and expensive response-and-recovery efforts afterwards:
It may be too late to achieve that if your beach doesn’t already fit that description, but this is a goal you should set for your coast. That’s a target that takes time and planning to achieve, but one that pays off in terms of damage reduction and community recovery.
Coastal managers must look over their beach with a critical eye – looking for vulnerable infrastructure such as roads and utilities as well as littoral weaknesses and likely problems such as hot spots that will need to be shored up or low spots prone to overwashing in even routine storm events. That will help customize both preparation and recovery efforts, as well as guide future work to make your coast more resilient overall.
Has your community – meaning residents, visitors and businesses — planned for a post-storm beach profile and coast? They may be surprised at the sand loss for the visible dry-sand beach, but may need to be reminded that sediment was just moved offshore due to the scouring nature of storm waves, and it will migrate back onshore once waves and currents return to normal. That’s also a good time to educate communities how coastal systems work, and to remind communities of the importance of pre-event protection for upland properties and infrastructure.
Remember, there are a number of ways a storm can attack your beach and community, and you need to be ready for each of them:
The most important step you can take, however, is to heed local emergency managers when they tell you how to prepare for storm dangers and what to do to survive an approaching storm. They are more aware of local conditions and vulnerabilities, are working with the most up-to-date information and probably have the best handle on the true nature of the storm situation – so listen to them.
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