Factors Controlling Storm Impacts on Coastal Barriers and Beaches-A Preliminary Basis for Near Real-Time Forecasting


  • Robert A. Morton


Coastal morphology, storm impacts, predictive models, near real-time forecasting


Analysis of ground conditions and meteorological and oceanographic parameters for some of the most severe Atlantic and Gulf Coast storms in the U.S. reveals the primary factors affecting morphological storm responses of beaches and barrier islands. The principal controlling factors are storm characteristics, geographic position relative to storm path, timing of storm events, duration of wave exposure, wind stress, degree of flow confinement, antecedent topography and geologic framework, sediment textures, vegetative cover, and type and density of coastal development. A classification of commonly observed storm responses demonstrates the sequential interrelations among (1) land elevations, (2) water elevations in the ocean and adjacent lagoon (if present), and (3) stages of rising water during the storm. The predictable coastal responses, in relative order from high frequency beach erosion to low frequency barrier inundation, include: beach erosion, berm migration, dune erosion, washover terrace construction, perched fan deposition, sheetwash, washover channel incision, washout formation, and forced and unforced ebb flow. Near real-time forecasting of expected storm impacts is possible if the following information is available for the coast: a detailed morphological and topographic characterization, accurate storm-surge and wave-runup models, the real-time reporting of storm parameters, accurate forecasts of the storm position relative to a particular coastal segment, and a conceptual model of geological processes that encompasses observed morphological changes caused by extreme storms.