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Winter Storm Elliot batters Coast Guard Beach; erosion forces closure

Coast Guard Beach
Cape Cod National Seashore
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There’s a 5-to-6 ft drop from a walking path down to Coast Guard Beach after last week’s storm caused major erosion to the dune.

Last week’s storm caused power outages, flooding, and massive deposits of sand that ended up on roads all across the region. Now, Winter Storm Elliot has passed, but the Cape Cod National Seashore has seen lasting damage.

Coast Guard Beach in Eastham took the hardest beating — and officials are asking the public to stay away until further notice.

Intense waves caused a five- to six-foot drop-off from the walking path on the dunes to the beach below. Officials worry that if someone got down onto the beach, they’d have no easy way to get back out.

“The concern is for anybody is walking on that section of the beach. If they get into an area where the tides are high [and] coming up to the bluffs, they could potentially be stuck in that location,” said Michael Valora, chief ranger for the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Elsewhere, overwash and flooding forced road closures and damaged businesses from Provincetown, to Centerville, to Falmouth, and beyond.

On Friday in Woods Hole, a local scientist noted that the crest — 5.57 ft above MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water) — was the 7th highest water level recorded by the Woods Hole tide gauge since record keeping began in 1932. It was just shy of peak water level during Storm Sandy (5.62 ft above MLLW).

We hear with climate change that these storms are continuing to get worse, to get more powerful,” Valora said. “So my universal request to the general public is that when we implement closures to different locations due to these storms, it's for life safety reasons. And we request that the public obey those closures for their safety and not potentially put rescuers at risk.”

Officials said they’re not yet sure when they’ll be able to re-open Coast Guard Beach and repair the path; Valora said it’ll be dependent on the high tide cycles. But a resilience plan for the Cape Cod National Seashore is in the works to minimize the effects of future storms on essential infrastructure.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.