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.