Originally created 11/30/02

Erosion tears at beach despite lack of storms



BEAUFORT, S.C. - It doesn't take a hurricane to hurt Hunting Island.

While the rest of South Carolina's beaches escaped mostly unscathed this hurricane season, the state park suffered heavy beach erosion on its already fragile coastline.

For the most part, this was a pretty uneventful hurricane season for the state. South Carolina beaches suffered little damage from three tropical storms that passed through the state, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported this week.

"By far, the most damaging storm this season was Tropical Storm Kyle," said Bill Eiser, the staff oceanographer for DHEC's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management in Charleston. "Not only did the storm spawn a damaging tornado in Georgetown County, but the storm and the astronomically high tides also caused heavy beach erosion on Hunting Island State Park in Beaufort County."

Tropical Storm Kyle made landfall in Charleston on Oct. 11, missing Beaufort County for the most part. But waves of 9 to 10 feet, offshoots of the storm, pounded Hunting Island's already eroding beach and helped wash away part of a road leading to cabins at the park.

The island is already vulnerable to erosion, losing an estimated 15 feet of sand each year to the Atlantic Ocean. Hundreds of trees already litter its beaches. Stumps poke through the waves, and cabins and bathrooms have been lost to the tides.

The park draws an estimated 1.2 million visitors each year, even as the water moves closer to its treasures. But one big storm could ruin its lagoon and threaten its historic lighthouse.

On the bright side, this wasn't the year of the big storm.

The 2002 Atlantic hurricane season produced only four hurricanes, half the number of the past few years.

"A strengthening El Nino suppressed the numbers of hurricanes and weakened storms," said Jack Kelly, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service.

Overall, there were 12 named storms this season. Hurricanes Lili and Isidore were classified as major - Category 3 or higher. Eight storms - Bertha, Edouard, Fay, Hanna, Gustav, Isidore, Kyle and Lili - affected the coastal United States. Only Lili made landfall while still a hurricane.

Louisiana was the hardest-hit area, with four storms, including the powerful Hurricane Lili and Tropical Storm Isidore. The season's storms claimed nine lives in the United States and caused about $900 million in damages.

"Four storm strikes on Louisiana remind us of the need for preparedness during every hurricane season," said Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center. "It's not the number of storms that counts, it's where they go."

The others that swept over South Carolina were Tropical Storms Edouard and Hanna, which entered the state after making landfall in the Gulf of Mexico. All three storms brought heavy rains to South Carolina.

Before the season began, experts had forecast seven to 10 tropical storms, with four to six developing into hurricanes and one major hurricane.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.