ALL EYES ON KAREN: Erosion expected as county declares state of emergency

Matt Algarin
Tropical Storm Karen could bring heavy rains and wind to Destin, causing beach erosion along the city's recently resorted beaches and Norriego Point.

While Tropical Storm Karen's point of impact is still unknown, as of Friday the storm's winds were decreasing and pressure increasing, which was a welcomed sign for city leaders in Destin.

"It's a big relief," Mayor Sam Seevers told The Log. "This means there isn't going to be anything we can't handle; we've come back from a storm like this plenty of times."

Still, city leaders and county commissioners declared a local state of emergency Friday ahead of Tropical Storm Karen's impact along the Gulf Coast.

Despite the storm's apparent weakening, city officials in Destin have been putting precautions in place over the past few days. Fees at Joe's Bayou have been waived, sand and bags were made available and buildings were secured ahead of any potential impact.

Northwest Florida Regional Airport was to close after the last departure on Oct. 5, between 8 p.m. and midnight, and remain closed through 5 p.m. on Sunday. Should conditions improve, they could open sooner. Destin and Bob Sikes Airports will close at 8 p.m. on Saturday through 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Public Information Manager Doug Rainer told The Log that city crews would be on call for the duration of the weekend to address any issues that may arise, such as flooding or drainage problems.

As of Friday's 1 p.m. advisory from the National Weather Service, Karen was moving north-northwest at 9 mph with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, which is well below the 74 mph threshold of a category one hurricane.

Hurricane warnings were still in effect from Grand Isle, La., to Destin, and Tropical Storm Karen is expected to make landfall Sunday. Heavy rain and storm surge are expected to impact the local area.

The already eroded Norriego Point could suffer ill effects from the wave action, especially if landfall coincides with high tide.

"It's to be expected," Seevers said of the erosion that will take place on Destin's recently restored beaches and along the point. "When any kind of disturbance comes in from the Gulf, and at high tide, it's not a good thing for the coastal areas."

While there is nothing the city can do to protect Norriego Point ahead of this weekend's storm, Seevers told The Log that if the city had about $225,000, they could install some sheet pile walls that would help stabilize the point and reduce erosion.

A phased plan for the complete stabilization of the point would have to follow, but any interim improvements would extend the life of the continually eroding point.

"It's probably going to be a discussion at an upcoming council meeting, but that's essentially what needs to happen," Seevers said. "It's necessary to protect our beaches and the point."

Residents can sign up for weather related alerts from the city of Destin by visiting and clicking on the Notify Me tab.

Potential Impacts according to a Friday analysis by the National Weather Service Mobile

· Heavy Rainfall:  2 to 4 inches Friday through Sunday with locally higher amounts 4 to 8 inches possible.   Heaviest rainfall will be near the coast.  

o   Mostly flooding of poor drainage areas and smaller stream basins. 

o   Shoal Creek in Florida currently at action stage…only larger river system right now of concern that possibly could approach minor flood stage.  

· Wind Impacts:  40 to 50 mph winds (35 to 45 kts) possible over the marine area late Saturday night into early Sunday morning…especially in squalls with bands of thunderstorms.  Tropical storm force winds at the coast Sunday morning. This is slower in timing than previous forecasts.  

· Coastal Flooding Storm Surge and Tide Levels:  Stronger East to Southeast winds late Saturday into Sunday could produce 3 to 4 feet inundation flooding over land…mainly Alabama Coast and westward.  1 to 3 feet inundation over the western Florida Panhandle.  Astronomical high tide is during the evening hours.

· Beaches:  Expect a HIGH RISK FOR DANGEROUS RIP CURRENTS through Sunday.  Also beach erosion with higher wave run-up possible through Sunday.  High tide for this event will be during the evening hours.