Weather

‘Unexpectedly unremarkable’ erosion at Hilton Head. But Dorian chewed other beaches

An eroded piece of beach on Hilton Head Island’s southern tip showed what kind of energy Hurricane Dorian carried as it swept up the south Atlantic coast this week.

But fortunately for Hilton Head, that was about the only spot on the island’s 12-mile shoreline that suffered the fury of Dorian.

Despite early indications that the island resort’s beaches would be heavily eroded, virtually all of them held up during the hurricane, the town’s chief engineer said.

Up the coast near Charleston and Myrtle Beach, some stretches of shoreline had erosion hot spots, although sand loss wasn’t as large as expected on some beaches, city officials said.

Scott Liggett, Hilton Head’s director of public projects and facilities, said the storm caused surprisingly little beach erosion, even failing to wash away a row of dunes being cultivated to protect oceanfront property.

Before the storm, officials were worried about erosion — and early indications were that the storm would pound away at the oceanfront. A day before the storm, the ocean was rising higher on beaches than usual.

“We would classify the damage as falling in the minor category,’’ Liggett said. “It was unexpectedly unremarkable to my mind. The beach appeared to do fairly well.’’

Beach erosion is a major concern for officials in oceanfront resorts like Hilton Head.

Most South Carolina beaches naturally erode, causing communities to spend millions of dollars on renourishment to keep beaches wide for tourists and to protect seaside homes and hotels. On Hilton Head, island leaders have spent about $32 million since 2016 on beach-widening projects in recent years.

Farther up the coast from Hilton Head Island, Dorian had more noticeable effects on seaside communities.

The beach at Pawleys Island appeared to have lost substantial amounts of sand, according to video footage by McClatchy newspapers and The Sun News.

One erosion hot spot was at a storm drain in North Myrtle Beach. The drain, which empties onto the beach, carried so much stormwater that it created a “huge crater in the beach’’ in the city’s Ocean Drive section, North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling said.

“Normally a stormwater pipe will carve something out after a storm, but this is highly unusual,’’ he said. “It eroded the beach 3- to 4 feet deep in a wide circle.’’

Another area that lost sand was Debordieu north of Georgetown. There, waves from Hurricane Dorian crashed over a seawall on the gated community’s south end, said Erin Pate, a Debordieu resident who is with the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, an environmental group. The seawall, partially obscured by sand before the storm, stood uncovered in places Friday, Pate said.

Even so, Dowling and city officials in Myrtle Beach and Folly Beach said erosion on their shores wasn’t nearly as bad as expected, with many dunes surviving.

S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control staff members flew over the coast Friday as part of a statewide assessment of storm damage to beaches, a spokeswoman said. Next week, DHEC will look in more detail at areas that appear to be of concern, spokeswoman Laura Renwick said in an email.

At Hilton Head, the lack of erosion on the beach didn’t surprise Duane Heighton of Bluffton. He was on the strand at Coligny Circle about mid-day Thursday. Hurricane Dorian wasn’t much of a storm, he said.

“It was pretty lame,’’ he said.

The only noticeable place in Hilton Head where erosion took a toll on the beach was on the extreme south end near Sea Pines, Liggett said.

Beach erosion was apparent near the Harbour Town pier, where blustery winds were felt more than on other sections of beach.

“We had a small area of erosion and scarping on the very toe of the island, the south end,’’ Liggett said. “I would classify that as minor erosion in a small-scale, localized area.’’

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Sammy Fretwell has covered the environment for more than 20 years at The State. He writes about an array of environmental subjects, including nature, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and coastal development. Fretwell is a University of South Carolina graduate who grew up in Anderson County. Reach him at 803 771 8537.
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