Shore Protection Office: Nourishment helped limit Isaias’ beach damage

These photos, taken in the Ocean Oaks area of Emerald Isle after Hurricane Florence and Tropical Storm Isaias, show the width of the beach and survival of the new vegetation planted in the recent beach nourishment project. There was no beach nourishment in the area in 2017 or 2018. (Greg Rudolph photos)

EMERALD ISLE — Carteret County Shore Protection Office Manager Greg Rudolph said Wednesday beach impacts from Tropical Storm Isaias late Monday and early Tuesday were “exactly what we expected,” little or no damage.

“High water soaked the berm (flat part of the beach) but did not soak or erode our new dunes or our new plants,” he said in an email.

The dunes were built and vegetation planted during the $28.2 million nourishment project completed this spring in western Emerald Isle, Pine Knoll Shores and western Atlantic Beach.

Mr. Rudolph emphasized he wasn’t saying “beach nourishment absolutely saved the day in the wake of Isaias,” but “Isaias’s impacts would have been worse, no question” if the new dunes weren’t in place and sand hadn’t been added to the flat part of the beach.

“We purposely designed the planting grid … so we could avoid wave run-up during storm events and this also allows the vegetation line to find its own natural place to stabilize,” Mr. Rudolph added. “The response to Isaias was right on point.”

The planting – mostly sea oats, but also some bitter panicum – began not at the intersection of the dune toe and the berm, as has been done in the past, but higher up the sloping dunes by about 3 feet.

There had been some potential for erosion, Mr. Rudolph said in the email, because Carteret County was in the east side of the storm as it moved up the I-95 corridor.

“The NE circulation quadrant is the strongest and is where the storm surge is generated … the water pushed ahead of the cyclone like a bulldozer blade pushing dirt,” he said.

The moon was full, amplifying high tides, but the tide was low at 3 a.m.

The potential for beach damage was also ameliorated by the distance from the center of the storm – close to 100 miles – and the fact that, unlike excruciatingly slow Category I Hurricane Florence in September 2018, Isaias was a tropical storm by the time it arrived and moved past the area quickly.

Florence had sustained winds of 90 mph when it made landfall at Wrightsville Beach and Category I Hurricane Isaiah had 85 mph winds when it made landfall at Ocean Isle Beach, roughly 50 miles south of Wrightsville.

All the factors – geographic, meteorological and nourishment – added up to the tide not reaching nearly as high up the beach during Isaias as in Florence.

“Of course (I’m) not suggesting that Florence and Isaias had similar storm parameters,” Mr. Rudolph said.

Also, he said, there is potential for damage to the nourished beaches in the future.

“We have a solid six to eight weeks of peak hurricane season remaining in August and September,” he concluded, “so we’re in for the long haul. But perhaps we get lucky.”

Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean lasts from June 1 through Nov. 30.

 

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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