Wet weather has impacted Wrightsville Beach for nearly a week, and with a hurricane threatening the Eastern Seaboard officials are preparing for more rain and potential flooding this weekend.
Already, rain and high tides have contributed to bacteria warnings in Wrightsville Beach swimming areas, a broken lifeguard stand, a potentially lost sea turtle nest, erosion on parts of the beach strand and standing water in several places.
And with Hurricane Joaquin moving toward the United States, the Wilmington region is preparing for likely high rains and flooding this weekend.
Joaquin was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane early Wednesday morning. The National Hurricane Center’s initial forecast cone shows the storm making landfall in the mid-Atlantic on Sunday, but meteorologists say it is too early to predict with any accuracy.
Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said that the town isn’t expecting flooding with the projected rainfall, as problems usually only occur “when we get it all at once.”
However, erosion in some areas could be an issue. Another ongoing issue is water quality.
Tuesday, Sept. 29, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality issued swimming warnings due to elevated bacteria for eight locations in Wrightsville Beach. Four of the warnings were advisories, meaning the bacteria levels in the area were above Environmental Protection Agency standards. For four other locations, the department issued alerts, which could result in advisories after officials conduct further tests.
The swim advisory locations include Banks Channel off Waynick Boulevard, Crystal Pier at Nathan Street and Lumina Drive, Stone Street access and Public Beach Access No. 2. While the elevated bacteria itself isn’t a problem, state officials said high levels can be an indicator of other toxins in the water, which can lead to gastrointestinal illness or skin infections.
High tides earlier this week washed away parts of the north end of Wrightsville Beach, and the sand around lifeguard stand No. 1, leaving beach escarpment in the area around Shell Island Resort.
Wrightsville Beach park ranger Shannon Slocum said a loggerhead sea turtle nest on the south end of the island was washed over by the tide, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the eggs were washed out to sea.
“It could have gotten washed out, or could have gotten reburied,” Slocum said. “We could still find some turtle tracks out there.”
The lifeguard stand was found knocked over on Monday morning, following the full moon eclipse on Sunday evening that raised tides higher than normal. The chair was broken during efforts to pick it up and repair it, Owens said. Town crews put additional sand around the other lifeguard chairs, the legs of which are already partially buried in the sand.
Owens said he and Mayor Bill Blair will inspect beach erosion this week.
“The tides are as high as I’ve ever seen them, without there being a major storm,” Owens said.
In addition to the threat from Joaquin, a storm from the Gulf of Mexico could also move north toward the region, bringing additional moisture. Current NWS forecasts show the area could get 2 inches or more of rain by Sunday morning, but that could increase significantly if the hurricane hits the North Carolina coast.
Spencer Roger, erosion specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant, said it is not unusual to have erosion on the north end of Wrightsville Beach. He said the waves generated by the weekend storms, along with the astronomical tide created by the full moon, could produce increased erosion.
In addition to the erosion on the north end, Slocum said parts of the beach are also washing away on the south end of the beach strand. However, Slocum said sand at the south end usually restores itself.
“The south end got hit pretty good. It’s worn down,” Slocum said. “The south end always rebuilds. It’s been doing it ever since I can remember. You can watch it build up throughout the fall and winter.”