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Weekend storm causes 'significant damage' at Pinellas beaches

Sunset Beach sand dunes saw some damage after a storm ripped through the area on Dec. 16. (Video by Meghan Bowman)

The unexpected storm caused "significant" damage to some of the sand dunes that had been replenished after Hurricane Idalia washed away five feet of sand in some places.

Pinellas County has spent about $30 million on beach restoration, including rebuilding sand dunes to protect against storm surge.

Hurricane Idalia washed away about five feet of sand from the beaches, leaving coastal residents vulnerable to storm surges.

Since the late August storm, Pinellas officials have worked to build up sand dunes from Pass-a-Grille Beach to Belleair Beach — about a 35 mile stretch.

But a large winter storm passed through the county over the weekend, causing damage to some of the dunes that were replenished after Idalia.

Sand dune damage on a beach with large houses in background.
Meghan Bowman
/
WUSF
Indian Rocks Beach sustained damage during an unexpected weekend storm to their months old sand dunes that were put in place following Hurricane Idalia.

And that's a big problem for an area that brings in billions of dollars each year for tourism.

"The dunes did their job to a great extent, they did offer significant protection against the storm surge," Pinellas County spokesman Tony Fabrizio said. "Unfortunately, it was pretty severe. Some people experienced more damage along the coast than they did for Idalia."

Many of the areas impacted by the weekend storm had just gone through renourishment, like Indian Rocks Beach.

When the sand dunes were set, the hope was that plants would root into it and make it more stable.

"We didn't expect to see a storm like this in December, but it did happen. And unfortunately, it happened before the the vegetation really had an opportunity to take take root and really hold a lot of that sand in place," Fabrizio said.

Blue sky and sand dunes with flat sand with large homes behind.
Meghan Bowman
/
WUSF
Indian Rocks Beach saw damage to newly placed sand dunes following a weekend storm that came through the area Dec. 16.

"So the initial reports are we did sustain some pretty significant damage to the dunes."

High tide caused the northern beaches to see most of the damage over the weekend — like drop-offs in the sand where the dunes were to sea level.

Crews began assessments after the storm on Sunday, said Fabrizio. And almost a full day later, they still hadn't roped off all the beach access points that sustained damage.

As far as repairing the beaches, Fabrizio said that over the next few days, the county will decide what approach they'll take.

Until the crews finish up assessing the damage — which could take a couple of days — Fabrizio said it's important people stay off the sand dunes and watch out for impacted areas.

"We're asking people to please be very careful and not use those compromised access points. And exercise caution on the beach altogether," Fabrizio said.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.
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