October's Hurricane Joaquin, despite early fears of a mid-Atlantic landfall, ended up spending its energy well away from the coastline. Nevertheless, the storm's impact was felt along a broad expanse of the U.S. Atlantic coast, in the form of high tides, pounding waves, and scouring currents. The rough waters damaged beaches, roads, and a few homes from South Carolina to New Jersey.

Harbor Island homeowner Mark Harbaugh describes scouring damage to his beach house by waves kicked up by Hurricane Joaquin.
Harbor Island homeowner Mark Harbaugh describes scouring damage to his beach house by waves kicked up by Hurricane Joaquin.

In South Carolina, where heavy rains brought severe flooding, some coastal areas were also hit by Joaquin's waves and tides. Local station WSAV (Channel 3) interviewed homeowner Mark Harbaugh, whose Harbor Island home was undermined by surf (see: "Harbor Island neighbors hope for help after homes lost to erosion, high tides," by Ashleigh Holland).

Charleston-area beaches lost a little sand to high tides and waves, reported local station WCIV-TV ABC 4 (see: "While inland areas deal with floodwaters, beaches battle severe erosion from storm," by Emily Gracey). Secondary dunes on Sullivans Island were cut back a few feet by surf while boardwalks were undercut by freshwater runoff, local officials told the station. And a team from the City of Folly Beach was using GPS survey equipment to gauge the elevation of the beach for a report to the Army Corps of Engineers, which spent $30 million just last year to replenish the beach there.

Waves washed away sand and undermined the asphalt along a short stretch of North Carolina Highway 12 in October.
Waves washed away sand and undermined the asphalt along a short stretch of North Carolina Highway 12 in October.

In North Carolina, surf undermined a short stretch of embattled state Highway 12, the slender lifeline that connects the Outer Banks to the mainland. WCTI News Channel ABC 12 reports on that story (see: "High waters cause parts of Hwy. 12 to collapse into ocean," by Nicole Ford). A man-made dune washed out in the surf, and scouring action then undermined the asphalt, state official Jennifer Heiss told the station. "Please note that the majority of this road damage is directly along the old dune that was just made of sand,"NCDOT told the public on the department's Facebook page. "The sandbags you see in the lower right corner are at the very north end of the dune that we rebuilt in late July/early August, which included sandbags. The area protected by sandbags has seen significantly less damage than the area you see in this picture not protected by sandbags. When this dune line is rebuilt, it will all include sandbags to protect the road."

Farther north in New Jersey, however, repairing Joaquin's washout damage will involve more than a few hundred feet of sandbags. "The scene Sunday on Long Beach Island was one of beach erosion, drifting sand, pounding surf and some minor flooding on side streets, especially in Beach Haven, at the southernmost point of the island," reported the Asbury Park Press (see: "Flooding breaks through dunes," by Amanda Oglesby and Steven Falk). "About 50 to 60 percent of the dunes in Ortley Beach were gone by Sunday afternoon, Toms River Business Administrator Paul Shives said. There were no reports of property damage."

And the damage got worse, the Asbury Park Press reported (see: "Some Jersey Shore beaches have disappeared," by Jean Mikle). "Last week's strong storm caused severe damage to many Jersey Shore beaches, with erosion so great that in Bay Head, Mantoloking, Ortley Beach and parts of Deal and Long Beach Island, there is little to no dry beach left," the paper reported. "The results of a survey conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection are bad news for many Shore towns who are now facing a long winter storm season with beaches and dune systems that are already badly compromised. Bay Head, Mantoloking and Brick closed their beaches until further notice after the storm carved out huge chunks of sand from the coastline. In all three towns, there are now substantial vertical drops down to the sand after the ocean carved out cliffs or scoured sand away from a steel wall the state installed last year in Mantoloking and Brick. The steep drops to the sand make it dangerous for the public to access the beach, officials have said."

New Jersey is still struggling to get permission from a few beachfront property owners for a comprehensive system of beach defenses that would in theory improve the resilience of the whole Jersey shore in the face of storms still to come. This month state officials finally resorted to court action in an effort to take control of the beach against the wishes of property owners and town officials in Margate, New Jersey, NJSpotlight reported (see: "In Margate, administration moves to seize 87 city lots via eminent domain," by Tom Johnson). "The state Department of Environmental Protection had hoped to take ownership of easement rights through an administrative order," NJSpotlight reported, "but the city challenged the plan and blocked it with a ruling from a federal district court judge this past January. In filing the action in Atlantic County Superior Court, state officials expressed disappointment they were forced to use eminent domain to secure the easement, but vowed to use it to move such projects forward. 'We will continue to be very aggressive in using eminent domain as a tool to obtain the easements we need from those who continue to delay our efforts to safeguard our coast,’' said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin."