USF Coastal Team: Irma damage to beaches worse than originally thought

Posted at 7:13 PM, Sep 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 19:13:00-04

Beaches in Pinellas County were bashed by Hurricane Irma’s strong winds.

USF Coastal Management leaders are measuring how much sand Pinellas County’s beaches lost in the storm, but say the erosion appears to be worse than originally thought. 

The team is taking 150 measurements along 35 miles of coastline from Clearwater Beach to Fort Desoto. They’re using a laser system to measure the length of the sand and compare that to measurements taken two weeks ago before Hurricane Irma hit.

“Some areas got completely smeared out and pushed offshore," explained Jun Cheng, a post doctorate student at USF. 

Luckily, the dunes along Pinellas County's shoreline weathered the storm, but the lower beach areas took a major hit, and that could mean a pricier fix to replace all the lost sand in an upcoming beach renourishment project. 

The coastal management team hopes to have final calculations over the next few days on how much sand Irma washed away.

“To the naked eye you really can’t tell what’s going on. You can see a little shoreline change but the worse damage we’ve seen has been offshore," explained USF student Zachary Westfall. 

The hurricane also caused a new concern, a big drop in the shoreline for swimmers. St Pete resident Edward Williams found the drop in the bottom of the beach surprising. The father had three two year old girls in tow at Sunset Beach in Treasure Island.  “Usually we come here and it’s shallow water for the girls to play in. Now it’s waste deep.”

The shoreline at Sunset Beach in Treasure Island now drops off suddenly. “It’s like a 3 foot drop right as you get into the water," Williams explained.

USF’s coastal management team noticed the drop off too and is studying it as well.