No Access: Effects of Hurricane Franklin reach SPI

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Cameron County officials closed three beach access points yesterday due to high surf associated with Hurricane Franklin, but few, if any, at South Padre Island were aware of the closures.

According to a memorandum posted to social media sites, the county cited “extremely high tides and undriveable conditions” along with weather highlights from the National Weather Service as the reason behind the closures.

Despite the dissemination, some vacationers and locals were unaware of the situation and the weather conditions.

The surf was reaching an approximate 4 to 8 feet, which may be good for surfers but is not for swimmers, said Barry Goldsmith, warning coordination meteorologist with National Weather Service office in Brownsville.

“The combination of rough waves and rip currents can be deadly if you don’t know how to swim in it,” Goldsmith said.

A woman identified as E. Castillo had planned her trip from Rio Grande City for a month. Arriving early and awaiting check-in time at a local hotel, she took to the beach at Access No. 3. When asked whether she knew the beach access point status, she said she did not know.

“I think the Island should have a weather (phone) line or an 800 number so people who are traveling can know,” Castillo said. “We follow the red flag, just getting our feet wet.”

David Forsberg and his family traveled to the Island from Austin, unaware of the long-distance effects Hurricane Franklin was producing.

“We didn’t know about anything until we got here,” Forsberg said. “The water was almost all the way up the beach at our hotel.”

Forsberg mentioned that he was keeping a close eye on his children, making sure they didn’t go “too far” into the waters.

The beach width was about 10 to 20 yards, which does not leave much room for tents or umbrellas. The beach width is affected by the run-up of the waves, Goldsmith said.

“This happens whenever you have a tropical or kind of low-pressure system. It’s equivalent to dropping a stone in a lake. The water radiates in all directions. In this case, Hurricane Franklin … had the strength to generate that swell all the way out,” Goldsmith said.

Farther north, cars cluttered the shoulders of the road at the entrance of Beach Access No. 6. Unable to drive past temporary barricades, Oscar Garcia of Mission was in the process of unloading his truck.

“I saw it closed, I was looking for a number to call,” Garcia said.

Garcia believed the barricades were just to restrict vehicular traffic, not pedestrians. After being told about the closures by the county, he and a female companion left to one of the beaches still available for public use.

After Garcia departed the Access No. 6 entrance, a group of individuals from McAllen were returning from the shoreline. One man, speaking in Spanish, said the water was very rough and that the current easily could take a child. Like others, he was unaware of the closure.

The flag warning system is utilized at virtually all public beach access points, with a large board explaining the meaning of each of the five flags used. Yet there is no visual cue, such as a sixth flag or special signage, to communicate beach closures to uninformed visitors.

The county should have an advisory on its website when the beaches are shut down, County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. said Thursday.

“It’s supposed to be on the website, but if they didn’t post it, I need to know that,” Treviño said.

The county will continue to monitor the situation, Treviño said.

“We’re going to keep our fingers crossed that the weather gets better and is less of a danger to the public,” Treviño said.

The waters were rough Thursday, but people are advised to take caution today, too, because even if the waters look smoother than the day before, currents can still linger, Goldsmith said.

“We have more concerns on days like this. People are less likely to take a risk when they see that the waters are rough … but a poor swimmer can get trapped and panic, and unless they’re rescued, it can result in injury or a fatality,” Goldsmith said.

The waves should be back to normal by Saturday or Sunday, making for a good summer beach weekend suitable to most swimmers, Goldsmith said.