Monday, October 24, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

The wind and rain of Hurricane Matthew visited the Francis Beidler Forest October 7-8, 2016. In preparation for the storm, we put shutters on the windows, unplugged the electronics and went home.

Shuttered windows - Image Mark Musselman
Neither the wind nor the rain alone would have caused much damage to the swamp. However, in combination they brought down some mighty trees, mainly oaks. It rained through the night of October 7th, which saturated the ground and set up the shallow-rooted oaks for the morning winds of October 8th.

We knew there would be trees along driveway that would need to be cleared before we could access the buildings and boardwalk. There were twenty-one trees across the driveway and all but two simply tipped over.
Trees across driveway - Image Mark Musselman
The vast majority of the trees across the driveway fell adjacent to the recent clear-cut on our neighbor's property to the north. With absolutely nothing to slow the wind, the narrow strip of trees in the drainage along the north side of the driveway took the full brunt of the storm's winds.
Neighboring clear-cut visible in background - Image Mark Musselman
With help from the staff of the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary, the driveway was clear the day after the storm. No buildings sustained damage. The boardwalk had three damaged sections along the backside.
Driveway after clearing - Image Mark Musselman
The boardwalk damage spanned the spectrum from major to minor to emotional. One section sustained only damage to a few deck boards and was quickly repaired. Another portion of the boardwalk (image below) had an oak destroy the entire 12-foot section, but the repair was straightforward.
Damaged boardwalk - Image Richard Covey
Major damage was inflicted upon the boardwalk by an oak tipping from alongside the boardwalk with the root ball uplifting an entire section like a drawbridge. Full of soil, the root ball cannot be chainsawed without damage to the saw nor can the root ball be easily dismantled by other means. The crown end of the heavy tree is still supported by at least one other tree upon which it fell, so cutting through the trunk without pinching a saw will be tricky. This repair has yet to be attempted as the water level, which rose over the boardwalk after this image was taken, is only now receding below the fallen tree.
Damaged boardwalk - Image Richard Covey
Finally, the emotional damage occurred when the living-yet-hollow bald cypress, into which visitors could step, folded over upon itself. Search a visitor's photo library and they likely have an image of someone in their group peering out from "the hollow tree."
The Hollow Tree - Image Richard Covey
After the storm and most of the cleanup, the water continued to rise. In the image below, a sign on the boardwalk rail shows the water level from last October's historic rain. Just beyond that sign at the base of the hickory tree is a nail denoting the high-water level from 1979's Hurricane David. Hurricane Matthew's water level crept slightly higher than what can be seen in the background, but fell short of Hurricane David's mark.
High-water levels - Image Mark Musselman
The next two images show the boardwalk before the rising water came up over the deck boards.
Rising water - Image Mark Musselman
Rising water - Image Mark Musselman
The following images show the high water from last October's historic rain. Although slightly higher than the Hurricane Matthew water level, the images give an idea of how the boardwalk appeared.
Boardwalk directly behind nature center - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk at #1 - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk near #2 - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk at fork near #3 - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk near #4 - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk back to #14 - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk at #18 - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk at #19 hollow tree - Image Mark Musselman
Boardwalk at #11 Goodson Lake - Image Mark Musselman
Beyond some road erosion, the only other damage yet detected occurred in our young longleaf pine stands. Seedlings that may have been planted in wet areas or areas with poorly consolidated soils after logging operations were unable to stand up to the storm's winds as 12-15' trees.

Fallen longleaf pine - Image Mark Musselman
Leaning longleaf pine - Image Mark Musselman

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