Anniversary of Irene’s Impact on New Jersey This Weekend
The past two days here in New Jersey were filled with plenty of sun along with heat and humidity. Five years ago this weekend, there was a lot of humidity as well with the approach of what eventually became Tropical Storm Irene here in the Garden State. While the storm had lost much of its punch, it still brought plenty of rain, which many locations in New Jersey didn’t need.
Prior to Hurricane Irene, the Garden State experienced perhaps the wettest August on record. Many locations had over a foot of water thanks to torrential downpours occurring numerous times over the course of the month. Here at GWC in South Plainfield, located in the Northwest corner of Middlesex County, there had been 10 inches of rain.
Then came Irene, which brought to GWC approximately 5.34 inches. Winds gusted to near 70 miles per hour while the barometric pressure bottomed out at 970 millibars, or 28.64 inches of Hg (Mercury), the lowest level ever at GWC at that time. It would be surpassed some 14 months later when Hurricane Sandy came along and shattered it.
Despite the tremendous flooding across the Garden State including the worst flooding in the 45 years that I’ve lived in my neighborhood in South Plainfield, NJ (View the video of the flooding from Irene outside of GWC). Places in Monmouth County such as Howell received much more rain (up to 10 inches). Irene also churned up the surf along the Jersey Shore including Raritan Bay at South Amboy’s Waterfront Park (View video of the rising tides at Raritan Bay from Irene).
Driving home from South Amboy was also very treacherous since portions of I-287 and Route 440 had overwash and flooding. The storm produced winds near 70 miles per hour at GWC. Central Jersey as well as other parts of the state were hit with power outages. A tornado was spawned in Lewes, Delaware which is a ferry service away from Cape May on the southern tip of the Garden State. The combination of losing power combined with the rising flood waters in my neighborhood forced my family to evacuate to a hotel in a nearby town. We stayed at the hotel for several days.
All of the chaos from the storm as well as the evacuation to the hotel put a lot of stress on our cat, Socko. Unknown to us, Socko had already been suffering health wise from a cancerous growth that had developed in his chest a few years before. However, the stress of going to an unfamiliar location caused him to suffer panic attacks. He eventually adjusted, but then was brought back to the house, where the air was stifling and had an odor that seemed toxic.
Socko died a week later on the Sunday morning before Labor Day. Our family hasn’t gotten a cat or dog since. To my amazement, the historic flooding in my neighborhood didn’t last long. Within a day, the flood waters had receded, which allowed my family to return home by Thursday of that week. Power and gas came on that day. One great thing that came out of all of this was the fact that the new GWC Wx Station, installed in June, kept running throughout, and I was able to retrieve the historic data.
The storm did damage further north as well. Irene brought storm surge between 3 and 6 feet in New York City and Long Island. It also produced torrential rainfall in New England, especially Vermont, which experienced some of the worst flooding since 1927. Many covered bridges, which dot the landscape throughout Vermont, were destroyed by the raging waters that developed as a result of the heavy rains from Irene there.
Despite all the tremendous damage from Irene, I must say that New Jersey, New York, and New England were very fortunate. Irene could have been much worse. After the storm had ravaged the Bahamas with Category Three strength winds of 120 miles per hour, it had strengthened to 125 miles per hour, but dry air was able to get into the system, and gradually sapped Irene of her strength and fury. The storm became a jogger struggling to get to the finish line. It had simply run out of gas.
By the time, Hurricane Irene had made landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the storm had winds of minimal hurricane strength, but more importantly, the core structure of the system had turned into Swiss cheese from the dry air intrusion. Originally, Irene had reached Cape May, and Brigantine Island as a Category One Hurricane with 75 mph winds, but it was later revised to be a tropical storm with 70 mph winds.
Irene was more typical of tropical systems that affect the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast although it took a more coastal track through the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and eventually up into New Jersey. Sandy was much different in that it was a tropical system that formed in the final days of October, where the upper level winds and jet stream are starting to become more winter like. In addition, blocking high pressure formed to the north of Sandy, which forced it to make its move toward the Jersey Shore.
It was a memorable week or two in New Jersey, but the experience with Irene, which was more of a rainmaker, would pale in comparison to the onslaught brought by Sandy some 14 months later. Irene and Sandy did serve as a reminder that New Jersey is a coastal state and despite the protection from the Carolinas to the south, it is still vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes.
Recalling Storm That Came Up East Coast One Year Ago
As I walked along the walkways at South Amboy’s Waterfront Park on Sunday night, I could see the waves coming in off the ocean. Despite being driven by an easterly wind, the waves were much smaller, and the tides were much lower. There was no storm surge developing in Raritan Bay. Skies were mostly clear with a near full moon illuminating the sky. It was a much calmer picturesque evening than it was exactly a year ago on this date.
On the evening of Saturday, August 27, 2012, I traveled over to Waterfront Park to take a look at the waves and surge being driven in by the large circulation that was Hurricane Irene. The ninth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season was the first major hurricane of the year before gradually weakening under the weight of dry air entrainment. Despite the decay, Irene was still a potent storm for an area that hadn’t experienced a direct hit from a hurricane in over a century. Tornadoes had touched down in parts of Delaware. Winds are still gusting over minimal hurricane force.
I had been at work during the day, and had gone out during my breaks to take pictures and video from the storm as it moved up the coast. After work, I drove the car onto Route 440, and took the exit to Route 9 before heading into South Amboy. Rain was already pouring by this point as I arrived shortly before 8:00 PM. As a matter of fact, by the time I was ready to go home, my clothes, especially my pants were soaked from the rain. Big drops of rain were falling and getting into my eyeglasses and onto the lens of my camera. Winds are blowing at a fairly decent clip, but not as strong as they would get when the storm drew closer to New Jersey later in the evening.
Unable to get into Waterfront Park at the main entrance since it was closed due to the storm, I ventured over to the other side of the waterfront where there are town houses that lead to the back of the park. There I saw the storm surge driving the water from Raritan Bay further into the park and the beachfront adjacent to the town houses. I was amazed by what I was seeing. I had come over to see how Raritan Bay was going to behave since The Weather Channel’s Hurricane Expert, Dr. Bryan Norcross had indicated that the storm was going to funnel the water into the bay.
I took my camera and shot video of the raging Raritan as I had called it in a blog post from that night. As I was filming, someone approached me and said to head down further. I went about halfway, and could see the water advancing further than I had ever seen there before. Previous times I had been to Waterfront Park over the past five years, I had seen much more tranquil waters even with coastal lows coming up the coast. Winds were gusty. It was definitely a sight to see. I decided to leave, and got in my car for the drive home, which was an adventurous one thanks to the pouring rain causing major ponding and flooding even on Interstate 287.
It was a taste of things to come. Winds continued to gradually pick up. You could hear the wind moaning outside as the evening wore on in Northwestern Middlesex County. I was busy watching news updates on the storm, blogging, and putting together the video I shot from Raritan Bay. While all this was happening, a huge problem was taking shape. The heavy rains from Irene, which would eventually total 5.34 inches here in South Plainfield, was rapidly becoming too much for the already saturated ground to handle. Prior to Irene, there had been about 10 inches of rain that had fallen in town. It wound up being the wettest August on record here in New Jersey. The great neighborhood flood was underway.
By morning, the pressure had fallen to 28.63 inches of Hg, which is the lowest pressure ever recorded at GWC. Over in the backyard, significant flooding had taken place and the old mulberry tree that had stood the test of time before weakening in recent years, gave way to the wind and saturated ground around it. It came down on the neighbor’s fence causing some damage to it. Flood waters were rising in the basement as water from the nearby swamp was converging with the flood waters already coming from down the street. The flood waters had advanced the furthest ever in the 40 years that I had lived in the neighborhood. The enthusiasm I had for the storm had quickly transformed to fear and dread.
Not knowing how high the flood waters were going to get in the basement, my family packed whatever we could, and evacuated to a hotel a few miles away. There we stayed for the better part of five days. Parts of the basement suffered damage. The hot water heater, furnace, washing machine, and dryer all had to be replaced. The foundation had to have work done on it. Irene had marked the first time that we had to apply for any sort of assistance from FEMA. A year later though, all of the damage from Irene is a distant memory. The storm made two landfalls in New Jersey. Just as many as in the previous 190 years. New York City had its first landfall since 1893. Parts of New Jersey such as Paterson, Little Falls, and Pompton Lakes were hit hard by the flooding.
Further north in Vermont, there was devastating floods that carried away bridges. However, in Central Jersey, the modifications to the Green Brook Flood Plain in the wake of the devastation to Bound Brook by Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999 had prevented the Raritan River from going too far over its banks and leaving downtown Bound Brook relatively unscathed. As quickly as the flood waters rose in Northwestern Middlesex County, they had disappeared. I was amazed at how quickly the water had receded, especially after all the rain that had fallen in August 2011. There would be another scare as torrential rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee followed a week later, but everything ended up ok.
It was something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime, and it was definitely something that I would never forget.
Good evening everyone. I made another trip down to both Sandy Hook and Sea Bright this afternoon, and conditions there were much different than they were a couple days ago during my last visit. It was finally starting to look like the weather was cranking up along the Jersey Shore.
Arriving at Sandy Hook first, I noticed right away, the stiff breeze out of the East off the ocean. It was a persistent wind resulting from the low offshore, and the high pressure area positioned over Maine. With both combining to form a tight pressure gradient, and easterly fetch, the low and the high were creating very rough seas. I had a feeling things were going to be tumultuous here when I saw that there were small whitecaps in one of the marinas along Route 35 in Old Bridge.
A few miles offshore, winds are light as the friction of trees and buildings was lessening the effect that the wind had at the coast. I didn’t really get too close to the water since there was overwash on the beach, and the flooding make it a bit difficult to get right to where the water came up against the shore. Arriving after 1:00 PM, I missed high tide when the waves and sea got very far up the beach. Thankfully, the tide retreated, but it still was ferocious. You could see the sea was raging as you drove across the bridge from nearby Highlands.
The wind was so strong and persistent that it was very hard to videotape what was going on. I still managed to do it, but the combination of shooting the video during the day, and the constant battering from the winds that were at least 35 to 40 miles per hour, affected my ability to shoot really good video. Nevertheless, what I captured on video from both Sandy Hook and Sea Bright was great. I hope to have the video up soon.
I was at Sandy Hook for about 20 minutes. The entire time, shirt was flapping in the breeze. I gained a great appreciation of what tropical storms and hurricanes can do along the coast. This was just an onshore flow from the combined forces of a weak low, and high pressure to the north. Imagine if there was a significant tropical storm, or hurricane offshore. Those who chase these storms regularly definitely endure a lot to get the footage you see on television, or the internet. Next, I got into the car, and traveled down to Sea Bright.
At Sea Bright, I was able to get much closer to the water, and felt more of the fury from this low than I did at Sandy Hook. In addition, the seas seemed to be getting rougher. The wave heights and periods were higher and faster, and the wind was just as strong. Areas of rock that were more pronounced on Tuesday were under more water now. The tide at Sea Bright came further up the beach than at Sandy Hook. I spent another 20 minutes there taking in all the sights and sounds. It was quite an experience for me since I’ve never been down to the beach in rough weather like that.
The National Weather Service in Mount Holly has all kinds of warnings and advisories out right now. It has extended the Wind Advisory until early Friday morning as winds in excess of 45 miles per hour are expected along the coast and in nearby inland locations. Areas further inland can still expect winds of 15 miles per hour with gusts up to 30 miles per hour. A Flash Flood Watch is in effect for Mercer County in New Jersey along with adjacent counties in Eastern Pennsylvania and Northern Delaware.
Closer to the coast, the Coastal Flood Advisory has been cancelled, but it was noted that the tide levels were higher than usual thanks to the low. A high risk for rip currents still remains. It is very dangerous surf that we’re dealing with. I don’t think it would be a good idea at all to get even close to the water right now. High surf advisory is in effect until Friday evening.
Skies have gotten progressively more overcast as the day moved along. Light to moderate rain is expected to begin over much of the Central Jersey region with steadier rains coming later tonight, and into tomorrow morning. An isolated thunderstorm is possible. About three quarters of an inch, to an inch and a quarter are expected through Friday. More on the trip to the Jersey Shore in the Hurricaneville/GWC Audio Report.
Another thing that I’m always fascinated by are the tales and stories that people provide to me either via e-mail, or through the guestbook. Besides getting questions or comments about the storm names, I always seem to get people to give me a story about their experiences with a tropical storm or hurricane.
A lot of these stories deal with fierce and powerful hurricanes such as Gilbert (1988), Allen (1980), Elena (1985), and Hurricane Andrew (1992) just to name a few. One of the nice things about a web site like this is that it gives people an opportunity to share their stories and experiences with others. I strongly encourage all of you to do that, and if you like, I’ll post them here in the blog in our Storm Stories section. I’m going to try and add some of my own experiences in the Storm Experiences section just so that we can exchange our experiences.
A lot is made of the statistical and meteorological aspects of tropical storms and hurricanes. We’re all fascinated by the numbers that the storms can tally up along with the imagery of radar and satellite loops depicting these storms traveling across the globe from the West Coast of Africa to the North American and Central American coastlines. However, these storms bring out tales of survival and struggle against the forces of nature that are more a tribute to the human spirit, and that is more profound than just the data these storms produce.
You can also post information on your experiences as well as discuss the latest goings on and storms in the tropics by going to the Hurricaneville Message Board. There I’ve made a number of postings for all of you to read.