Note: This article was compiled and excerpted from Beavers and Selleck (2006).
The 2005 hurricane season was extraordinarily active, destructive, and costly. A record 27 named storms, which included 15 hurricanes, 7 of them major, killed more than 1,500 people with thousands more displaced or missing, and caused more than $200 billion in damage in the United States. An unprecedented three hurricanes had sustained winds of more than 155 miles per hour (249 kph)—the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, though not at landfall. Storm surge from Hurricane Katrina—estimated in the 30- to 35-foot (9- to 11-m) range at Waveland, Mississippi, northeast of New Orleans—contributed greatly to the damage, but numerous other storms impacted park resources. Among the areas affected were Cape Lookout (North Carolina), Gulf Islands (Florida and Mississippi), and Canaveral (Florida) national seashores; Everglades, Dry Tortugas, and Biscayne national parks (Florida); Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida); Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (Louisiana); and Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas) (Beavers and Selleck 2006).
The severe storms had tremendous human costs, though no National Park Service employees were killed. In addition, these storms catastrophically impacted both natural and cultural park resources and infrastructure. Specific impacts included the following:
In August and September, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall near parks along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Storm surge from Katrina “accordioned” the distinctive, thin-mat floating marsh, resulting in lateral compression folds and retreat of the marsh by about 200 feet (61 m) along a 1-mile (1.6-km) stretch of shoreline in one day. This is the equivalent of marsh normally lost to erosion in 10 years. Scientists concluded that compression of Louisiana marshes after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 contributed to a shift in species dominance, and a similar impact may result from Katrina. In Texas at Big Thicket National Preserve, forest canopy damage was extensive, and at Padre Island National Seashore tons of hurricane-transported debris drifted ashore, requiring extensive cleanup by the park’s hazardous materials team.
The Florida unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore was still recovering from Hurricane Ivan (2004) when Hurricanes Cindy, Dennis, Katrina, and Rita plus Tropical Storm Arlene affected the park. On Santa Rosa Island, major portions of the 15 miles (24 km) of park roads, which Ivan had washed out, were under repair when the 2005 storms destroyed the roads again. These roads were the primary means of public access to the popular park beaches and historic Fort Pickens. At the Mississippi unit of Gulf Islands, Katrina’s 17- to 35-foot (5.2- to 10.7-m) storm surge and 130 mile-per-hour (209-kph) winds flowed over the barrier island, redistributing sand, removing vegetation, denuding trees, submerging part of East Ship Island, and truncating Horn Island.
Farther south in Florida, Hurricane Wilma unleashed its storm surge in excess of 13 feet (4 m), damaging a more extensive area of coastal mangroves in Everglades National Park than had been harmed by Hurricane Andrew 13 years earlier and Katrina earlier in the year. Also hit was Big Cypress National Preserve, which sustained widespread, though not severe, damage to infrastructure and natural and cultural resources.
After striking these parks, Wilma moved east across southern Florida to Biscayne National Park and Canaveral National Seashore. Biscayne staff observed that over about a three-hour period, winds nearly emptied shallow Biscayne Bay, which took an estimated 10 hours to fill up following the storm. Farther from shore, branching corals were flattened and boulder corals were displaced; however, before any of the 2005 storms hit, widespread bleaching, a sign of stress, probably contributed to the damage. At Canaveral National Seashore approximately 1,000 of 3,600 sea turtle nests were lost to erosion, and several sections of the coast were washed over or experienced 3–5 feet (1–1.5 m) of dune erosion.
Though Hurricane Ophelia never made landfall in North Carolina, the mid-September storm dumped 10 inches (25 cm) of rainfall driven by 90-mile-per-hour (145-kph) winds, opening a new inlet three-fourths of a mile (2.4 km) south of New Drum Inlet at Cape Lookout National Seashore. The hurricane also significantly widened Old Drum Inlet, which had been nearly closed, as storm surge washed over the national seashore.
Severe Storms Affecting the National Park System in 2005
|Storm||Date and place of landfall||Wind speed and classification at time of landfall||Primarily affected park(s)||Primary resource damage/change(s)|
Grand Isle, LA, and near Ansley, MS
|75 mph (121 kph); category 1||Gulf Islands
|Access road damaged|
Santa Rosa Island, FL
|121 mph (195 kph); category 3||Gulf Islands
|Access road destroyed
Key breached, channel deepened
|127 mph (204 kph); category 3||Everglades
|Trees defoliated and blown over; significant sediment deposition and major erosion; concessions facilities and housing damaged; vehicles destroyed; campground closed|
|Barrier islands breached and truncated; extensive erosion and vegetation damage, including trees; wildlife impacted; Fort Massachusetts damaged; visitor center heavily damaged; voluminous debris accumulation|
|Jean Lafitte||Floating marsh torn and compressed; trees damaged; Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum) invasion; massive shoreline erosion; visitor center damaged; employees displaced|
|Ophelia||15 September; offshore of Cape Lookout, NC||86 mph (138 kph); category 1||Cape Lookout||Barrier island breached, creating inlet|
|Rita||24 September; Texas-Louisiana border||121 mph (195 kph); category 3||Big Thicket||Enormous amount of downed tree blocking trails and roads; high fuel load anticipated for 2006 fire season; headquarters damaged|
|Jean Lafitte||Saltwater intrusion of marsh, swamp, and forest; trees damaged and lost; changes in vegetation|
|Padre Island||Gulf debris washed ashore|
Cape Romano, FL
|121 mph (195 kph); category 3||Big Cypress||Road and culverts damaged; nonnative plant invasions; roosting trees for endangered woodpecker damaged|
|Biscayne||Bay partially emptied; corals damaged|
|Canaveral||Beach erosion; around 1,000 (of 3,600) sea turtle nests lost|
|Olaf||16 February; Samoan archipelago||>155 mph (249 kph); category 5||National Park of American Samoa||Trees broken and blown down; birds, fruit bats, and coral reefs impacted|
Source: Beavers and Selleck (2006).