A nor'easter is predicted to potentially hit the East Coast on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
With coastal communities in New York and New Jersey still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the last thing the area needs is another storm. But that's exactly what it might get.
A nor'easter is predicted to potentially hit the East Coast Wednesday (Nov. 7), and beach erosion experts are concerned about further damage to shorelines devastated by Sandy.
As Sandy came ashore, its record surge and pounding waves tore apart or eroded hundreds of miles of dunes and protective sea walls along the East Coast. Hundreds of homes and buildings, which also provided some protection, were destroyed.
The lack of protective dunes and damage to sea walls could lead to lowland flooding near the coast, depending on the wind direction and storm surge from the new storm, even one that isn't expected to approach Sandy's strength.
"The beaches and sand dunes are the first line of defense for coastal communities against storm surge and waves. They're going to take the first brunt of the storms," said Hilary Stockdon, a research oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va. (Infograpic: Timeline of Sandy's Week of Destruction)
Many of the sandy beaches along the Atlantic Coast have become increasingly vulnerable to significant impacts due to erosion during past storms, including Hurricanes Ida (2009) and Irene (2011), as well as large storms in 2005 and 2007, according to the USGS.
Stockdon said Sandy caused extensive erosion to beaches and dunes. The USGS and other agencies are now running aerial and ground surveys to assess the damage.
"There are dunes that have been eroded away completely, so now their protection is gone," Stockdon told OurAmazingPlanet. "That will make these communities more vulnerable to future storms that may not be as strong."
Quick repair and restoration of the coast could be essential to minimizing damage from future storms, whether the one currently brewing or any others that could develop later in the winter. In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation is issuing emergency permits for storm-related repairs in coastal areas and wetlands.
Farther north, front-end loaders are already pushing sand back onto the beach, said Greg Berman, a coastal geologist with the Woods Hole Institute Sea Grant program in Falmouth, Mass.
During powerful storms like Sandy, surging waves throw sand up and over the beach, where it remains stuck. The beach can't restore itself without access to sand. However, this is also a natural process; beaches aren't stationary, and their location migrates with time, Berman told OurAmazingPlanet. "When you push it back onto the beach, you're circumventing that migration, and it gets harder and harder to do over time," he said.
Sandy's late October arrival also increased coastal vulnerability by removing sand that had been naturally stored offshore for summer beach replenishment, Berman said. During the winter, sand is stored in sandbars and comes back in the summer. "After Sandy, instead of going into a nor'easter system at our best, we're going into it at a weakened condition," Berman said.