Pinellas beaches plagued by erosion after Tropical Storm Debby

6:46 PM, Jun 27, 2012   |    comments
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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- For 5-year-old Emily Smolka, the end of Tropical Storm Debby means it's easier to find shells.

For USF Geology professor Ping Wang, the end of Debby means piecing together how badly beaches eroded.

Starting on Thursday, he will team up with Pinellas County officials to observe and compile data on how much erosion was suffered in the storm. "Debby was almost a perfect storm for beach and dune erosion," he says.

It wasn't a big storm, but it brought a constant two to three foot surge that attacked beaches for days. Because of that, Professor Wang says this is among the worst erosion he's ever studied along Pinellas County beaches, particularly on Sunset Beach and Pass-A-Grille.

Long Pier on Redington Beach was also impacted. Some of the vertical pilings and diagonal braces dangled or broke off altogether, potentially compromising a section of the 50-year-old pier. Some pilings ended up washing onto shore, still bolted together.

The damage on Upham Beach, where sand tubes were installed years ago to prevent critical erosion, surprised even those who flock to the beach daily. "The tubes are usually half-visible [beneath the sand]," says Nick Pittella. "Right now, they're pretty naked."

And while a 5-year-old may not fully realize the repercussions of the erosion, Smolka knows what she wants to happen.

"I hope it stays like normal," she says.