ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (WKRG) – A disappearing coastline – beach erosion is a common occurrence on the Gulf Coast and it most often occurs outside of hurricane season.
“Wintertime is a very erosive period so a lot of those unnamed events can cause a lot of damage.” Says Phillip West, the Director of Coastal Resources Department for the City of Orange Beach.
But tropical systems can make huge impacts and beach nourishment teams must be ready for this.
“If we suffer a lot of erosion from a storm you know like we did with Sally and Nate and several storms back, we are in charge of the repair of those beaches.”
I had the opportunity to tour some areas that have eroded the most at Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, including at the beach areas near the Marine Science Adventures and the Gulf Shores Surf and Racquet Club.
Even though this stretch of beach looks thin, Phillip reminds us that our coast is everchanging.
“Day-to-day, if people notice erosion, I would just say don’t panic. It changes every day. Sometimes the beach will be a lot more narrow than you remember that stretch of beach being. Well next week, that cusp or that narrow spot may have moved on down.”
And the good news heading into hurricane season…
“They’re, for the most part, pretty healthy and do their job protecting all the infrastructure on the upland: houses, roads, etc.”
And eroded beaches will be replenished.
“This coming fall, winter, and early next year will be a big dredging project, a beach nourishment project.”
There are many factors that go into predicting how a tropical system will affect the coast. “A lot of times we get really focused on the actual landfall, the category of a system, without realizing that we start seeing rip current risks, high surf, things like that well ahead of an approaching hurricane or tropical storm.” says Jessica Chace, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mobile.
And predicting a storm’s impact on a beach can be tricky. Chace continues.
“The angle of approach, the intensity, just how long the surf heights are just to allow that beach erosion to occur, it can get difficult to predict.” Says Chace.
So, while visitors and residents enjoy our pristine beaches, remember, they are in most cases our first line of defense from tropical weather.