On September 20, 2020, a gale warning urgent weather message by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Melbourne, Florida was issued for Flagler Beach to Volusia-Brevard County line. An early nor’easter storm had arrived at Volusia’s beaches, with wind gust predictions as high as 35 miles per hour and seas predicted to rise 12 to 17 feet. Volusia County Coastal Projects Manager, Joe Nolin, reported the storm lasted approximately one to three tide cycles with gale force winds blowing on the coast for two to four days.
After the storm, locals and visitors could not help but notice some of the damage to coastal areas including consistent high tides, flooded waterways and boardwalks, dune erosion and the intense impact witnessed at Smyrna Dunes Park near the inlet rock jetty. The towering pilings for the park’s beach access were exposed for the first time. The dunes appear like a mountain range from the additional erosion, estimated to be 30 feet high. The historical rock jetty is completely uncovered. One local’s comment says she has “not seen the rocks exposed like that in over 50 years.”
“The beach access, north of the jetty, has been removed permanently,” explains Nolin. “The county will leave the tower as a scenic overlook. The pole sets remain safe and intact. Visitors to the park can enjoy beautiful vistas of the intracoastal waterway meeting the ocean.”
Coastal Volusia residents can expect an annual nor’easter, but usually not until November. According to the NWS, a nor’easter is not a hurricane, but can cause billions of dollars in damage, severe economic, transportation and human disruption, and in some cases disastrous coastal flooding. “Volusia’s position on the east coast brings wind driven seas directly from Bermuda. This nor’easter was mixed with a forecasted offshore tropical depression,” describes Nolin. Volusia’s worst nor’easter on record was in 1947, lasting seven days.
According to Nolin, recent significant erosion to area beaches began in 2016 with Hurricane Matthew then continued with Hurricane Irma (2017), Hurricane Dorian (2019) and annual nor’easters. Damage to the coast is measured by three important storm considerations: duration, direction and intensity. Volusia’s powdery white sand beaches and longshore current created a natural sand storing system 50 to 100 yards out. Erosion can be expected each winter, then during the summer, moves back and rebuilds itself.
Some Volusia residents are curious if the inlet dredging project, completed in 2019, had any affect on the additional erosion at the New Smyrna Beach inlet. Nolin explains, “No, the dredging project did it’s job. It built up more beach in the focused areas.”
On the Ponce Inlet side, erosion is in worse condition. The north jetty is set to undergo a $7 million expansion by the Army Corps of Engineers to slow down wave transfer and “re-establish crest elevation matching the original build in the 1970s.” The project will begin spring or summer 2021 and last 19 months.
Overall, the state of Volusia beaches has moderate erosion. There are erosional hotspots the county is keeping watch on including Third Avenue to one mile south of Hiles Boulevard in New Smyrna Beach and Wilbur by the Sea to the north jetty. The coquina beaches, Bethune Beach and in the north county, are doing “remarkably OK.” The county council has diligent communication with State and Federal partners by reporting coastal concerns regularly.