Saturday, November 14, 2009

It might be a long winter for coastal homeowners

I am in West Virginia for a conference and have been watching storm footage from the Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay this week. This video from Nag's Head North Carolina shows that we should pay attention to Nor'Easters just as much as hurricanes. Extra-tropical storms often last for several days and occur over several tidal cycles, allowing waves to chew away at the coast as storm surge penetrates further inland. Hurricanes are few and far between in New England, but extra-tropical lows are a yearly occurance. We tend to think first of the destructive power of hurricanes which have often accelerated and have weakened by the time they reach us. This power is concentrated, but occurs over hours rather than days.

The Mid-Atlantic coast is now facing a winter with no sand reserve on their beaches to buffer further winter storm damage. What little sand has accumulated over the summer or has been replaced through nourishment is largely gone. Rows of houses have been lost, and the season has just begun. Millions of dollars of renourished sand has gone offshore (some of which will return with time). Estuaries, such as the Chesapeake and Narragansett Bay funnel wind driven water into their upper watersheds causing erosion of salt marsh and floodplains - problems not only for ocean facing beaches, but for rivers and coves as well.

Rhode Island needs to position itself to withstand prolonged winter storm events. Our work to protect and restore salt marsh and coastal buffers is incredibly important. We are also developing a living shorelines policy for Rhode Island to create buffers where shorelines have already been structurally hardened. We need room to retreat, but we also need to soften our edges. Look for more soon about our new program and read about living shorelines on this NOAA web page, and on this page from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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