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Earth Sense: Hurricane season is quiet so far
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“What’s up with the weather?” asked a recent cover page on National Geographic. Once again, nature is not complying with the rules which we scientists are trying to nail down.

As average temperatures rise in many (but not all) locations, predictions of this and future hurricane seasons ranged from gloomy to horrifyingly catastrophic. But the current Atlantic chart on noaa.gov looks calm and peaceful.

It’s been 11 years since we made it into September without a hurricane (Gustav hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks that Sept. 11). Tropical storms Andrea, Barry, Chantal and Dorian have already run out of steam — literally, because water vapor is the No. 1 fuel for tropical systems.

Hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30, but that again is a rule made by government experts, not by the powers who really control these storms.

For the barrier islands of the U.S. East Coast, this has been good news so far. With their roads, homes and even high rise buildings, these islands stretching from Virginia to Florida give many people a false sense of security.

Geologically, they are nothing but a few hundred feet of sand piled on the ocean floor. Like all sand, it gets moved around by the wind, but more importantly, barrier islands migrate in directions controlled by the water. That’s a natural process.

On the ground, it looks like an inlet (the body of water connecting the ocean and back channels) is shifting. But in reality, it means the island is shrinking on one end and growing on the other. For aspiring home owners, the consequence can be losing the house when an inlet arrives on the property, cutting into the lot from one side. It’s therefore wise to consider a beach house a temporary structure.

In addition to this process that continues even in a period where tropical weather is absent, there’s beach erosion. That’s the loss of sand from the front of the property, caused by the very buildings which suffer the most from the erosion process. Unable to spread across a built-up island, the sand disappears into the ocean water. When too much of it is gone, foundations become unstable and buildings begin to collapse.

A continuing quiet hurricane season would be very much in the interest of beachfront property owners along the Southeast coast.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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