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Keywords:

  • large woody debris;
  • tropical cyclone;
  • blowdown;
  • fluvial impacts;
  • log rafts;
  • coastal plain rivers

Abstract

Hurricane Rita, a category three hurricane which struck the US Gulf Coast near the Louisiana/Texas border in 2005, did not cause extensive river flooding. However, the storm did result in extensive forest damage and tree blowdown. High-resolution post-storm aerial photography allowed an inventory of river bank trees blown into the channel along the lower Neches and Sabine Rivers of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Blowdowns directly into the channel averaged 9·3 per kilometer in the lower Neches and 13·4 in the lower Sabine River, but individual reaches 10 to 20 km in length had rates of 20 to 44 blowdowns per kilometer. Though large woody debris (LWD) from Hurricane Rita was widely perceived to reduce the capacity of channels to convey flow, no strong evidence exists of increased flooding or significant reductions in channel conveyance capacity due to LWD from the storm. The Rita blowdown inventory also allowed an assessment of whether similar blowdown events could account for major logjams and rafts on Red, Atchafalaya, and Colorado Rivers on the Gulf Coast, which blocked navigation from tens to hundreds of kilometers in the 1800s. Results from Hurricane Rita suggest that blowdown into channels alone – not withstanding blowdown elsewhere in the river valleys or along tributaries which could deliver LWD to the river – is sufficient to completely block channels, thus providing a plausible mechanism for initiating such (pre)historic log rafts. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.