How Hurricane Idalia changed Tampa Bay beaches
Hurricane Idalia made landfall in August 200 miles north of Tampa Bay, sparing us from the worst of the Category 3 storm.
Yes, but: The cyclone, even that far away, wreaked havoc on Pinellas County beaches, several of which were already in need of nourishment before the hurricane.
What happened: Storm surge washed away sand and dunes, leaving just a thin, bare shore along the famous barrier islands, according to before and after photos captured by University of South Florida researchers.
- Ping Wang, a professor in the School of Geosciences who has studied west Florida beach erosion for 20 years, told the Tampa Bay Times it was the worst erosion he'd ever seen from a single storm.
Why it matters: A healthy beach, with a wide shore and plenty of dunes, protects coastal infrastructure and habitats from storms. Tampa Bay beaches are also a major tourism draw and a favorite feature for residents.
Zoom in: The photo above shows Pass-a-Grille Beach, where Idalia wiped out three decades of dune growth, Wang told the Times.
- The popular local spot is part of several Pinellas beach renourishment projects that are on hold because of a requirement by the Army Corps of Engineers that beachfront property owners provide permanent access to their land.
Indian Rocks Beach saw similar dune destruction. That patch of dunes was about 12 years old, Wang told the Times. The dunes regrew after erosion from Tropical Storm Debby in 2012.
On Sunset Beach, storm surge washed away sand and warped a swimming-pool deck seen in the photo on the right.
Madeira Beach, too, saw sand erosion. The storm also washed away a turtle nest that is shown blocked off with pink tape in the photo on the left. Still, it shows the benefit of having a wide beach to start with, Wang told the Times.
Belleair Beach, which Wang said in the Times is "a very aggressive erosion hotspot," was set to begin renourishment next year, so the shore was already depleted by the time Idalia struck.
What's next: County officials are working on a plan to stabilize the barrier islands, a spokesperson told WTSP.
- "The county is going to be implementing emergency control measures in the hardest hit areas to get them shored up at least through hurricane season," spokesperson Tony Fabrizio said.
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