Hurricane Floyd should have been a warning to many in New Jersey. From state and local officials to residents, the flooding toll left behind by the rains of then Tropical Storm Floyd was unprecedented and devastating. Many living along the Raritan River in towns such as Middlesex, Bound Brook, and Manville, are still living a nightmare, or have already left due to the rising flood waters of the Raritan River.
Nevertheless, there are many communities throughout the state that continue to build even despite this disaster. What is even worse is that Floyd was not even close to what it was when it was near Category Four strength off the coast of Florida a few days earlier.
So, a major hurricane, one that is a Category Three Hurricane or better, has not affected the Garden State in quite a while. That brings to question whether or not New Jersey as well as the rest of the Metropolitan New York area, is prepared for a major hurricane.
There hasn't been a landfalling hurricane in New Jersey for many years, but we've had our share of close calls. Hurricanes Gloria (1985) and Bob (1991) came close as they made landfalls across Long Island and New England. There have also been a few tropical storms that we've had to deal with such as Agnes (1972), David (1979), and Bertha (1996), but only Agnes brought flooding that was similar to that of Floyd last year.
The flooding brought by Agnes in 1972 was most felt in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the town of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. So, New Jersey has been, for the most part, unscathed until Floyd last year. This is mostly due to a couple of factors, which are related to the geographic location of the Garden State along the East Coast of the United States.
First, because New Jersey is fairly north, the sea surface temperature in the immediate area of the New Jersey coast is much colder than what is needed to support hurricane development. Secondly, the upper level winds over the Northeastern United States, which includes New Jersey, are often dominated by strong westerly winds. The lack of these two factors in hurricane development prevent significant hurricanes from affecting New Jersey.
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Not only are they building a great deal down in coastal areas such as Long Island, North Carolina, and Florida, but they are also building a great deal here in New Jersey. Since New Jersey is close in proximity to New York City and has a great deal of hi-tech companies, there are many people living in and moving to the Garden State.
Consequently, New Jersey has become one of the most heavily populated states in the country, and is expected to continue growing for the next 30 years. That has led to a tremendous explosion of building throughout much of New Jersey. This building has not only created traffic problems and school overcrowding to the Garden State, but it has also created problems such as flooding along many common roadways such as Route 22 in Somerset County where the Watchung ridges have experienced quite a bit of building in recent years.
There are also flood prone areas such as the previously mentioned region that borders the Raritan River in Central Jersey, and the Passaic River in Northern New Jersey. Furthermore, the traffic created by this building could also add to problems if and when a major hurricane strikes. This is particularly along the Jersey Shore where there is always a great deal of people during the active months of Hurricane Season.
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In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated much of South Florida, which had not seen a major hurricane of Andrew's caliber in some 27 years despite the geographic location of South Florida. This had left many South Floridians unprepared for Andrew, and it showed. The most powerful storm of the 1992 season ended up being the most costliest hurricane ever as Andrew caused some $27 billion dollars in damage.
One of the lasting impacts of Hurricane Andrew is the level of preparedness Floridians now take when a hurricane threatens their area. In addition, South Florida now has the strictest building codes in the entire country. Will New Jersey learn from these lessons? This remains to be seen. There seems to be a very apathetic feeling toward the possibility of such a disaster. The last major hurricanes to really make an impact over the Northeast were the Long Island Express of 1938, which killed some 600 people, and the 1944 Hurricane which left another 390 people dead.
So, many generations of people in New Jersey as well as much of the Northeast have never experienced a major hurricane. One thing we must consider is that those two storms killed that many people at a time when the Northeast was not as heavily populated as it is today. In addition, forecasting is still very difficult despite the progress that has been made over the years. Even the recently developed seasonal forecasts have not been able to effectively assist emergency management and disaster planning officials because the predictions are not detailed enough to give them a good idea of how to prepare.
However, seasonal forecasting is a helpful tool in the sense that it gives people in vulnerable ideas of what's going to happen so that they can make the necessary preparations to protect themselves and their possessions. There are also long term forecasts, which indicate that there will be an increased number of major hurricanes over the next 20 to 30 years.
This is at the same time that population growth is expected to continue to grow in New York and New Jersey, which adds to the problem. Knowing that this area handled such storms as the Blizzard of '96, there is hope that we will be prepared if and when a major hurricane comes a calling.
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