By Chelsea Ambriz
Published: June 1, 2023
In 2022, Hurricane Nicole caused catastrophic beach erosion on Florida's east coast — but while many credit Nicole for the damages, the storm was not only to blame for the devastation.
As a Category 1 storm, Nicole was just the fourth hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S. in the month of November and the latest on record for Florida's east coast.
So how does a weaker storm like that cause such immense devastation? It falls back on the impacts of Hurricane Ian.
Because Hurricane Ian struck the same area just six weeks prior, it had already weakened the natural coastline defense.
Ian's size caused hundreds of miles to experience flooding, storm surges, and beach erosion on Florida's east coast as it tracked through central parts of the Sunshine State and weakened the beaches' green infrastructure leaving little to no time to rebuild before Nicole.
"The coastal impacts of storms can build upon each other," said Michael Brennan, director of the National Hurricane Center. "Ian caused a lot of beach erosion, coastal flooding along the east coast of Florida and then Nicole came along in November and exacerbated that, causing even more impacts."
You cannot underestimate the power of water; each storm will come with its own characteristics. And Nicole making landfall near Vero Beach as a Category 1 hurricane proved just that.
"It's not just the storm surge, but the wave action that can eat away at the beach or eat away at dunes," Brennan said. "It can cause houses and things to fall into the water and at certain levels it also weakens the beaches and dunes that protect you from a storm surge or from the next storm."
Beaches and sand dunes are our first line of defense from surges and destructive waves during a storm, which is why is it so important that during the off-season we maintain and take care of them.
In May, volunteers dispersed throughout Virginia Key to plant native trees in the Hammocks to build the green infrastructure ahead of the 2023 hurricane season.
" [The trees] create this structure that would block waves and slow down waves during storms but then it also provides habitat," said CEO of Miami Waterkeeper, Dr. Rachel Silverstein. "It might clean water, it sequesters carbon, it does all these really additional important functions beyond just blocking waves."
It takes only six inches of water to knock over an adult, one foot of water to float a small car, and two feet of water to float an SUV. If you live in a flood zone that is highly prone to storm surge inundation, this is something to keep in mind when deciding to evacuate.
"You don’t have to evacuate hundreds of miles to get to a safe location. You don’t have to drive out of the state of Florida," Brennan said. "You can find a friend or relative to stay with outside of those surge zones, in a safe home or you can find a shelter."