Following a nearly week-long barrage, strong northeasterly winds and the accompanying waves have left the northern half of Rehoboth’s beach inaccessible from the Boardwalk. City officials say they will be working hard over the next two weeks to provide as much access to the beach as possible before Memorial Day weekend.
The city announced May 10 that beach access points from Rehoboth Avenue north to the Henlopen Hotel have been closed.
A couple days later, Assistant City Manager Evan Miller said it will definitely be a challenge to reconstruct the dune crossings and repair the beach completely by Memorial Day. Some dune crossings may remain closed until the state can make the necessary repairs, but the city will work to knock down the storm-created ledges where it can and flatten the dunes to make crossings safe, said Miller, who was appointed interim city manager while the city looks to replace former City Manager Sharon Lynn.
“We believe that this will enable us to reopen several of the dune crossings that are currently closed at the north end,” said Miller in an email May 12. “Rehoboth Beach will be open and accessible Memorial Day weekend, and ready for a terrific summer season.”
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control spokesperson Michael Globetti said the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section field team will start storm cleanup as soon as they can safely access the beach. The first priority is to clean up loose debris, including pieces of sand fencing and posts dislodged by the storm, and to grade dune crossovers to make them safe for pedestrians, he said.
This work needs to be done in many communities, and the DNREC team will work from south to north along the Atlantic Ocean coast to address first the areas with the heaviest debris load and erosion, Globetti said in an email May 12. The second priority for the DNREC team will be to circle back to make necessary dune fence repairs, he said.
Globetti said some areas of dune fence, including in Rehoboth Beach, may not be repaired immediately because of an upcoming beach nourishment project, which includes dune fence repair and replacement, to be conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In early March, Congress approved a $1.5 trillion spending package that includes about $12 million for beach replenishment in Cape Henlopen, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island. At the time, the replenishment project wasn’t expected to begin before winter or spring of 2023. It appears that timeline is not going to change.
Steve Rochette, Army corps public affairs officer, said May 11 their engineers had begun assessing the data to see if there was any potential for the recent nor’easter to be categorized as an extraordinary storm, which could possibly qualify for repairs under the corps’ Flood Control & Coastal Emergencies program, but he thought it was unlikely. In a follow-up email May 12, Rochette confirmed his initial response: "Based on our analyses, the storm does not meet the criteria for an extraordinary storm event."
Indian River Inlet beach being fortified
DNREC has already been working for days to stabilize the dune on the north side of the Indian River Inlet bridge. When they can, a bulldozer and front-end loader have been pushing sand near the main entrance to the beach immediately north of the inlet.
Jesse Hayden, DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management Section administrator, said the work is being done to fortify the eroded dune that would normally be maintained by the inlet’s sand bypass plant, which is currently offline. Approximately 11,000 cubic yards of sand have been hauled to the site and spread into vulnerable areas of the dune and beach, he said.
Unusual weather pattern
Sarah Johnson, a Philadelphia-area meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the direction of the wind wasn’t necessarily unusual this time of year, but the duration was.
Northeasterly winds are the second most common wind direction in May for the station at Wildwood, N.J., said Johnson. However, she said, this was a very unusual coastal low because of something called a blocking pattern, which is when the weather pattern in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere is stagnant.
Typically, coastal lows progress up the coast, but this coastal low was nearly stationary since about Friday, May 6, said Johnson, who expected the weather pattern to move farther southwest May 12.