Delaware Public Media

Weekend nor'easter brought minor damage to dunes, thrill to wave watchers and surfers

Mar 5, 2018

Strong winds, heavy rain and snow hit the First State Friday while wave heights soared on Saturday and Sunday. But Delaware’s beaches were left intact.

Mike Powell, a shoreline and waterway program manager with Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Watershed Stewardship, says it’s too early to tell how much beach was lost during the nor’easter.

But he says dunes in Lewes and Broadkill Beach have lost some height. Over the tide cycles from Saturday to Sunday, he observed about a 5 feet loss along the sand dunes in Lewes.

“Any time we see dune loss, we’re concerned that it leaves us more vulnerable to future events,” Powell said. “The dune losses in this case were not major but every little bit helps.”

The dunes are the beach’s first line of defense from coastal storms. 

Some Delaware Bay communities in Kent County seemed to suffer greater impacts from the storm. 

"We observed waves eroding the front side of the dune systems," Powell said. "But even there, the impacts were not severe for the most part." 

Wave heights reached the 8-10 feet range in Indian River Inlet South and between 6-8 feet in the Rehoboth-Dewey area in Sussex County, causing some beach erosion and "minor damage to the dunes, if any," Powell said. 

For many wave watchers, the high waves provided a spectacular show. 

Lewes resident Stephanie Restucci Faust watched the waves crash around near Henlopen Hotel and Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk on Sunday, March 4. 

“With the wind change and tides…wow…lived here and never saw waves that high,” Faust said. “The barrels were just huge and perfect.” 

Waves near Henlopen Hotel.
Credit Courtesy of Stephanie Restucci Faust

John Doerfler from the Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation watched the waves rise at the Naval Jetty in Cape Henlopen State Park on Saturday and at the south side of the Indian River on Sunday.

Though Doerfler said it didn’t seem like the healthiest weather to be surfing in, he watched a couple of surfers get barreled by the waves in the Indian River.

“I saw a guy take a surfboard in on the wave. The wind was so hard coming from the west as he dropped onto the wave the wind picked his board up like a kite and flew it behind him,” Doerfler said.

He said he was amazed by everything, from the activity of the shoals as they broke heavily about a mile from the coast, to the height and magnitude of the waves.

“It’s really awe inspiring to see just the power of the waves and the wind and water,” Doerfler said. “There’s something beautiful and calming about it in some weird sense. It’s something you don’t quite see every day.”

DNREC’s Mike Powell says it’s not unusual for storms like the one from the weekend to pound Delaware’s coast in March. The state will see another storm Wednesday.

The National Weather Service says Delaware will fare better in the upcoming storm, with winds reaching up to 50 miles per hour. Wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour pounded the state this past weekend.

The National Weather Service says Delaware will fare better than parts of Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the upcoming storm, with winds reaching up to 50 miles per hour, said Meteorologist Joe Miketta. Wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour pounded the state this past weekend.

“The winds won’t be quite as strong, the tidal flooding won’t be quite as bad,” Miketta said. “And we’re expecting a little bit less rainfall from this event.”

Northern Delaware could see two to four inches of snow Wednesday, Miketta said.

This story has been updated.