Hurricane Irene did not hit South Carolina directly, but the strong surf it created has hit some beaches near Charleston hard.
Folly Beach County Park in Charleston County remains closed indefinitely after sustaining severe damage from the heavy surf caused by Irene. A boardwalk was washed away, along with several dunes. The high tide currently reaches what used to be the park’s far parking lot. Park officials said it is too soon to tell when they will be able to reopen.
The state’s Ocean & Coastal Resource Management team spent the weekend looking at beachfronts along the coast. They found Folly Beach and Sullivan’s Island were both heavily eroded by the storm’s surf. In Folly Beach’s case, O&CRM’s program manager Dan Burger said the beach’s profile is now 2-6 feet lower.
“That end of the island has had a chronic erosion problem,” Burger said, “Earlier this year, (after) passing offshore storms, it began losing sand at an accelerated rate. This most recent passage of Hurricane Irene made the erosion situation even worse.”
Burger said part of the problem was that the Charleston area was already having an exceptionally high tide even before the storm hit. “What we experienced was storm swells that were building on top of an already-predicted high tide,” he said. The higher than normal level means several beachfront houses currently have water underneath them at high tide, although Burger said that “astronomical” level would go down in the coming days.
The eastern part of Folly Beach has been eroding away for decades due to jetties built in the Charleston harbor, but this weekend’s storm may have sped up the process.
Even though the Grand Strand area was closer to Hurricane Irene, that part of the state was not affected as badly as Charleston’s barrier islands were. A reason is the geography of the islands themselves– typically the ends of barrier islands are more vulnerable to storm erosion.