What saved Seaside? After Sandy, New Jersey community studies South Walton

Seaside dunes

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey town Cape May is looking at Seaside's protective dunes structure. The dunes at Seaside helped protect our 30A town from the large 1995 storm Hurricane Opal.

Molly Mosher | The Sun
Published: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 08:00 AM.

SEASIDE ­— This small Florida town located between Destin and Panama City looks a lot like Cape May, N.J., and Cape May Point with its mix of Victorians, beach bungalows and homes with gingerbread trim, picket fences and big porches.

Seaside escaped the wrath of a hurricane far worse than Sandy. In 1995, Hurricane Opal roared towards the Florida Panhandle with 115 mph winds with gusts to 140 and a storm surge of 8-14 feet, yet this town with a tourist economy was virtually undamaged.

What saved Seaside? Dunes and a natural sand bluff. The town’s homes were built behind the dunes. Meanwhile, seven miles down the road in Dune Allen, the majority of waterfront homes built without a dune were destroyed.

According to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) report, Hurricane Opal was one of the most severe hurricanes to impact Florida this century. “Hurricane Opal caused more structural damage along the Florida coast than all hurricanes and tropical storms combined since 1975.” The report notes portions of Hwy. 98 in an area just east of Fort Walton Beach were completely washed out several hundred feet from the shoreline.

According to DEP, most of the damage from Hurricane Opal to Florida’s Panhandle was due to extensive storm surge, waves and associated erosion. Most all of the damage occurred within a zone extending 200 to 300 feet from the shoreline.

Walton County had 80 homes with 50 percent or more of the structure destroyed. During Hurricane Opal, CNN reported half million dollar homes “shattered to little more than match sticks.”

Mike Dombrowski, a coastal engineer and president of MRD Associates of Destin, said Seaside and south Walton County have large sand dunes and sand bluffs. He said there are high dunes on side of Seaside and sand bluffs composed of very high quality sand.

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