, April 1, 2010 (ENS) - Impacts from a decade of extreme storms on the coastline of the northern Gulf of Mexico have left many coastal areas vulnerable to future storm events, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey warned today.
"Recent hurricanes have caused significant erosion of coastal features, and, in some cases, lowered barrier island elevations. It is important to understand how such lowering of beaches and dunes can increase the vulnerability of coasts to future storms," said Abby Sallenger, a USGS oceanographer in St. Petersburg.
Sallenger is one of the scientists attending the 2010 science meeting for the northern Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Change and Hazard Susceptibility Project at the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center.
The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and extends through November 30. The 2009 hurricane season was a relatively mild one for the United States, with only one hurricane and one tropical storm coming ashore.
The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be "somewhat more active" than the average 1950-2000 season, according to early predictions from a team of meteorologists at Colorado State University.
In their forecast based on a new extended-range early December statistical prediction scheme that utilizes 58 years of past data, Philip Klotzbach and William Gray said expect to see 11 to 16 named storms, six to eight hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes during the 2010 hurricane season.
House in Surfside Beach, Texas destroyed by Hurricane Ike, September 2008. (Photo by Adam Devaney)
Over the last 10 years, 58 percent of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coastline has been hit by hurricane force winds. Major hurricanes like Ivan in 2004, Katrina and Rita in 2005, and Ike in 2008 have pummeled and eroded beaches and sand dunes along the Gulf Coast - the first line of defense for coastal communities and ecosystems against extreme storms.
"The vulnerability of barrier islands or coasts to inundation during extreme storms is determined, in part, by the elevation of the first sand dunes or beach berm," said Hilary Stockdon, another USGS oceanographer in St. Petersburg.
"The dunes act as an important line of defense, taking the brunt of waves and storm surge and somewhat reducing the impact on coastal communities," she said. "On engineered coastlines, seawalls or other structures may be used to provide this protection."
The Coastal Change Hazards Program studies the response of coastal environments to extreme waves, storm surge, and currents. The USGS scientists coordinate with other state and federal agencies in predicting the likely interactions between waves, storm surge, and coastal topography during extreme storms.
Accurate predictions can improve response times and provide valuable information to the public, coastal managers, and emergency response teams, said Sallenger and Stockdon.
Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Administrator Craig Fugate Wednesday addressed the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida on the importance of coordinating with state and local officials in preparing for, responding to and recovering from hurricanes. Fugate also talked about ways to better engage the public as part of the nation's emergency management team.
"FEMA is only one part of the nation's emergency management team," said Fugate. "As hurricane season approaches, FEMA is coordinating with state and local officials to ensure that all communities along the coast are prepared to respond. But we can only be as prepared as the public, and so it's important that everyone take steps now to help keep their family safe in the event of a hurricane or other emergency."
According to two new studies by an Louisiana State University team, 80 percent of Louisiana coastal families have a well-developed hurricane response plan of their own but have little faith in the preparation developed at higher government levels.
"Clearly, the perceived inadequacy of the federal response to Katrina still lingers in the minds of many residents," said David Brown, assistant professor in LSU's Department of Geography and Anthropology who co-authored the studies, both designed to create more effective hurricane communication among forecasters, government officials, media and the public.
The telephone survey of more than 500 southeastern Louisiana residents was conducted by LSU's Public Policy Research Lab in October and November 2009 found 57 percent of those surveyed believe their town or parish has a well-developed plan; 62 percent believe the state does; but only 30 percent believe the federal government has one.
"It is encouraging that the vast majority of respondents have some kind of hurricane plan," said Brown. "This demonstrates recognition that hurricane preparation needs to be taken seriously at the household level."
Sixty percent of the respondents believe that the hurricane protection systems such as levees, warning systems and pumps are better than before Katrina, while 20 percent of the respondents have "no confidence" in them and believe they offer "no protection" to Louisiana.
The telephone survey was funded by the second phase of a $130,000 grant from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.
Final results of the project will be released later this month and will include best practices for improving risk communication in coastal communities.
Accuweather.com released its early hurricane season forecast on March 12, predicting a more active season than last year with two or three hurricanes making landfall in the United States.
Accuweather forecaster Joe Bastardi predicts that the 2010 season will bring 15 tropical storms and five hurricanes. He bases his predictions on a weakening El Nino, warmer ocean temperatures, weakening trade winds, and higher humidity levels than in 2009.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue its initial forecast for the 2010 season in May, prior to the official start of the season on June 1.
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