Gulf coastline vulnerable to storm surge - WFLA News Channel 8

Gulf coastline vulnerable to storm surge

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The dunes are lower on Bay area beaches The dunes are lower on Bay area beaches
ST PETERSBURG, FL (WFLA) - Local researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Science Center in St. Petersburg find that low dune height on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico makes us more at risk during a hurricane.

The model forecast the researchers produce can simulate a hurricane to find what areas along the coast have the highest potential to see inundation from storm surge.

"The main vulnerability comes from these dunes," said Dr. Joe Long, Research Oceanographer with the USGS.

Dr. Long and the other researchers found that the beaches and shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, from Florida to Texas, have a higher risk of beach erosion, overwash of dunes during a storm, and even dune breakdown.

The reason for that is that dune height is much lower. The dunes along the Pinellas County beaches average around three feet high, but the dunes on Florida's Atlantic coast can be twice that height.

According to their model, 71 percent of the U.S. Gulf Coast would see dune overwash with a Category 1 storm. When a Category 5 landfall is put into the model, nearly 90 percent of that area experiences inundation to coastal development.

When Hurricane Sandy roared ashore in the Northeast in 2012, the storm surge broke through some dunes and washed onto roadways.  Researchers here in St. Petersburg watched this scenario closely to check their model prediction.

"We had a number of locations in the Northeast, along Fire Island in New York, where a breach did open up during the storm," said Dr. Long.  "It was a place where we had a high probability of inundation."

When simulating a hurricane with their model, three lines are shown along all coasts. If the innermost line is red, beach erosion due to storm surge is likely. If the middle line is also red, water is expected to be higher than the dunes and wash over them. Finally, if the third line is red, there is a high probability the dunes will break down and coastal development will be inundated with storm surge.

Due to an expected development of El Nino this summer, the National Hurricane Center is predicting near-normal to below-normal hurricane activity this season.

They are predicting 8-13 tropical storms with three to six of them becoming hurricanes; one or two of the storms are expected to reach Category 3 or higher.

Copyright WFLA 2014. All rights reserved.

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