USGS: Barry's waves, surge to affect beaches in four Gulf Coast states

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Though Louisiana landfall is likely, highest waves expected to strike east of the storm

This news release was originally posted on July 11 and was updated on July 12, 2019.

Although Tropical Storm Barry is expected to make landfall in Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane, USGS coastal change experts forecast that wind-driven waves are likely to damage coastal beaches in Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle as well.

If Barry continues on the course and intensity predicted by the National Hurricane Center on Friday, it is very likely that about one-fifth of sandy beaches in Louisiana and 15 percent of sandy beaches in Mississippi will be overwashed, with storm waves breaking over the dune peaks, a USGS computer model predicts.

“Even though the storm is expected to make landfall in Louisiana and the storm surge is expected to be greatest there, there may also be significant coastal impacts in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle because of large onshore-directed waves,” said research oceanographer Kara Doran, leader of the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Storm Team based in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Barry’s storm surge is forecast to be about three to six feet, affecting the Louisiana coast, but the storm is also expected to generate waves of 12 to 15 feet, Doran said.

“Wave run-up is high for Mississippi and Alabama, and a little bit for the Florida Panhandle, because those areas are forecast to be within the storm’s northeast quadrant, which is the most powerful portion of the storm, with winds and waves directly aimed at the coast,” she said. “The main impact will probably be beach and dune erosion, with some overwash on Mississippi’s low-lying barrier islands.”

Only three percent of Alabama’s sandy beaches and none of Florida’s are very likely to be overwashed.

Baches forecast to be affected by Hurricane Barry

This Coastal Change Storm Hazard Team map was created Friday, July 12, 2019 and shows forecast beach erosion (the strip of colored bars closest to the coast), overwash (middle strip) and inundation (outer strip) effects of Tropical Storm Barry’s predicted landfall in Louisiana. See https://marine.usgs.gov/coastalchangehazardsportal/ for possible updates. Credit: USGS, Public domain.​​​​​​​

Overwashing is the middle range of potential storm damage. As waves and surge reach higher than the top of the dune, overwash can transport large amounts of sand across coastal environments, depositing sand inland and causing significant changes to the landscape. Overwash can reduce the height of the coast’s protective line of sand dunes, alter the beaches’ profile and leave areas behind the dunes more vulnerable to future storms.

The most severe category of beach damage is called inundation, when seawater completely and continuously submerges beaches and dunes. No Gulf Coast beaches are predicted to be inundated, based on the current forecast for the storm.

The least severe level of storm damage is erosion at the base of the dunes. Nearly one-half of Louisiana’s beaches are very likely to be eroded at their bases.

The prediction of Barry’s effects at landfall are based on results of the USGS Coastal Change Forecast model, which has been in use since 2011 and is continually being improved. The Coastal Change Forecast model starts with inputs from the National Hurricane Center’s storm surge predictions and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wave forecast models. The USGS model then adds detailed information about the forecasted landfall region’s beach slope and dune height. It predicts how waves and surge will move up the beach, and whether the protective dunes will be overtopped.

Because the waves used in the USGS model are offshore waves in deep water, the model forecasts the storms’ effects on coastal, seaward-facing sandy beaches, not estuarine shorelines. The USGS and its research partners are working on developing similar forecasting capacity for other types of shorelines, Doran said.

The predictions define “very likely” effects as those that have at least a 90 percent chance of taking place, based on the storm’s forecast track and intensity. They are available at high resolution for all the areas likely to be affected by storm-tides and waves from Barry, and will be updated to reflect the latest information from the National Hurricane Center and NOAA.

The most up-to-date forecasts for potential coastal change predictions are at https://marine.usgs.gov/coastalchangehazardsportal/

The USGS continues to take all appropriate preparedness and response actions as Barry approaches the Gulf of Mexico coast. People potentially affected by the storm can visit http://www.ready.gov/ or http://www.listo.gov/ for tips on creating emergency plans and putting together an emergency supply kit.