Open-File Report 2014–1243
Beaches serve as a natural buffer between the ocean and inland communities, ecosystems, and natural resources. However, these dynamic environments move and change in response to winds, waves, and currents. During extreme storms, changes to beaches can be great, and the results are sometimes catastrophic. Lives may be lost, communities destroyed, and millions of dollars spent on rebuilding.
During storms, large waves may erode beaches, and high storm surge may shift the erosive force of the waves higher on the beach. In some cases, the combined effects of waves and surge may cause overwash (when waves and surge overtop the dune, transporting sand inland) or flooding. Buildings and infrastructure on or near a dune can be undermined during wave attack and subsequent erosion. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy made landfall along the Eastern United States in August 2011 and October 2012, respectively. Although these hurricanes made landfall south and west of the northeast Atlantic coast, waves from these storms caused severe erosion and undermining, destroying roads in some areas of the coast (for example Westport, Massachusetts).
Waves overtopping a dune can transport water and sand inland, covering roads and blocking evacuation routes or impeding emergency relief. If storm surge inundates barrier island dunes, currents flowing across the island can create a breach, or a new inlet, completely severing evacuation routes.
Extreme coastal changes caused by hurricanes may increase the vulnerability of communities both during a storm and to future storms. For example, when sand dunes are substantially eroded, inland structures are exposed to storm surge and waves. On barrier islands, absent or low dunes allow water to flow inland across the island, potentially increasing storm surge in the back bay, on the sound-side of the barrier, and on the mainland.
First posted December 11, 2014
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Birchler, J.J., Stockdon, H.F., Doran, K.S., and Thompson, D.M., 2014, National assessment of hurricane-induced coastal erosion hazards—Northeast Atlantic Coast: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014–1243, 36 p., https://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20141243.
ISSN 2331–1258 (online)