While Florida, the Gulf Coast States, and even the Carolinas have been hit hard by hurricanes over the past ten years, New Jersey has been spared. As a matter of fact, since 1851, the Garden State has been left relatively unaffected by tropical storms and hurricanes. New Jersey's unique layout of coastline, and its location relative to the very warm sea surface temperatures of the Southeast and Gulf Coasts, have always made things difficult for powerful hurricanes to make an impact.
There have been some close calls with the Long Island Express of 1938, the 1944 Hurricane, Hurricane Donna (1960), Hurricane Gloria (1985), and Hurricane Bob (1991), but Jersey has always been on the western and weaker side of the storm in those cases while Long Island and/or New England has bared the brunt. However, residents along Jersey's shore as well as visitors shouldn't get too comfortable. Hurricanes can strike here too, and National Hurricane Center Director, Max Mayfield, drove home that point in an April conference in Atlantic City.
Mayfield warned that New Jersey's luck with hurricanes is going to run out. He would not speculate when exactly, but looking at the latest figures from NOAA's updated forecast for the 2005 Atlantic Season, and viewing sea surface temperature data for the Mid-Atlantic, the NHC Director may be right. More importantly, the climatic scenario may be just right for such a storm to strike the Jersey coast this season.
The Garden State is immune from tropical systems. Tropical Storms such as David (1979), Bertha (1996), and Floyd (1999) have made impacts here with Floyd causing the most devastation, particularly with heavy rains that spawned floods in many New Jersey towns. In addition, there has been a major hurricane that impacted Jersey. Nearly one hundred and eighty-five years ago, a Category Four Hurricane roared up through Delaware Bay into Cape May and followed a track along what is now the Garden State Parkway in September, 1821.
The storm was fierce as it brought winds of 100 mph as far as as Philadelphia. If a storm of such force would hit today, it would strike a much more populated and urbanized New Jersey. As a matter of fact, a recent insurance damage estimate of a major hurricane making landfall in the area of Asbury Park, New Jersey would cost approximately $56 billion dollars. The costliest storm to date, Hurricane Andrew caused $27 billion dollars in damage to South Florida and Louisiana.
Since 1851 though, there have been only two storms, both hurricanes, that have made an impact on the Jersey coast. Both were minimal storms when they hit the Garden State, and they were both a long time ago (1878 and 1903). New Jersey has had some close calls with the 1938 Hurricane, 1944 Hurricane, Donna, Belle, Gloria, and Bob, but all these storms have stayed far enough east of the Jersey shore to have only a minimal impact.
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Knowing that very dire fact and seeing that the Atlantic is currently going through a very prolonged period of high activity, it would be safe to say that time is running out on New Jersey's period of good luck. According to Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, it's not a matter of if anymore, but when. In a recent meeting with emergency management officials, local and county leaders, and representatives of insurance companies back in late April, 2005, Mayfield warned that a hurricane will happen in New Jersey although he couldn't elaborate on when.
Citing the fact that there have been double digit named storms each year since 1995 except the 1997 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which was during a strong El Nino event, Mayfield was quoted in the Associated Press as saying that, "We've had more tropical storms and more hurricanes since 1995 than in any other 10-year consecutive period on record." In 2004 alone, there were 16 named storms (including one subtropical storm, Nicole), 7 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes including an unprecedented four that impacted parts of Florida (Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne).
The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season has already seen a tremendous amount of activity. As of Friday, August 5th, there have been nine depressions and eight named storms to form. Thankfully, only two of them have become hurricanes, but both were major hurricanes. As a matter of fact, Hurricanes Dennis and Emily became the strongest two hurricanes ever in July since records began in 1851. More is expected to come too. In addition, a recent study published in Nature by Dr. Kerry Emanuel of MIT suggests that there is indeed a link between global warming and strong and longer lasting storms and hurricanes.
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During the first week of August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, issued an update to their 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season forecast, and the news was rather grim. The updated forecast called for an additional 11 to 14 storms with five more becoming major hurricanes. If the forecast bodes true to the extreme, the 2005 season will have equaled the 1933 season's total for most named storms with 21.
On top of that, sea surface temperatures off the Jersey coast near Atlantic City have been warmer than usual. The latest sea surface analysis reveals that offshore water temps in that area are running at 77 degrees Fahrenheit (about 25 degrees Celsius). As a matter of fact, SSTs from about Southern Monmouth and Ocean Counties to the Chesakpeake Bay are running between 24 and 26 degrees Celsius, or about 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit. This may not support intensification, but these marginal water temperatures could allow a tropical storm or hurricane to sustain itself a bit longer. Furthermore, sea surface temperature anomalies indicate that waters off the Jersey coast are running up to 1.5 degrees above normal. So, the situation from a climatology standpoint, could be just right for a storm to hit New Jersey.
Seeing these new figures and climate data, it is very likely that one of these many possible storms will threaten, if not impact, the East Coast of the United States, including the Garden State. So, folks visiting or living along the Jersey shore must begin taking precautions and making preparations for when a storm does threaten the region.
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