SOUTH WALTON, Fla. (WMBB) — The Panhandle didn’t get the brunt of Hurricane Ida’s rains and winds, but Walton got some of her effects following powerful storms.
The surf from Ida eroded the beaches, which were already depleted by the last three hurricane seasons. Along Blue Mountain Beach access, waves hit above 6 feet along the dune lines. Officials warn that beach erosion will continue to worsen from here.
“The Gulf is a very large and powerful body of water that is very temperamental and mercurial, and you cannot predict what it is going to do,” said South Walton Fire District Beach Safety Director David Vaughan.
Officials across the Panhandle are staying with double red flag conditions because of the high tide and strong surf. Vaughan said the days following the storm are the ones that worry him.
“That’s when it’s most dangerous as the surf dies down,” Vaughan said. “Those sandbars and beaches are pretty beat up, and those straight rip currents are what will cause problems here later in the week.”
High tides combined with high surf lead to more erosion. It is not only difficult for lifeguards to make rescues, but also eliminates the protection provided by the dunes.
“The beaches in Walton County are what we consider critically eroded,” said Walton’s Beach Operations Director Brian Kellenberger.
When the dunes are less than five and a half feet above sea level, they are considered critically eroded. Nature cannot stop or correct the problem on its own, it needs human help. Whether it means creating sacrificial dunes or beach renourishment.
“You simply add sand to increase the elevation of the beach,” said Kellenberger. “And that typically increases the depth or width of the beach.”
Experts will begin assessing damages and needs once the Gulf returns to normal calm conditions.