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Really Lousy Weather

by Greg Hoffman


The sound of chirping birds in the Spring signals the beginning of a 6 month respite from the threat of northeasters. After Spring, however, comes Summer and the beginning of hurricane season.

Northeasters represent the most frequent threat to the Jersey shore, but the ultimate knock out blow, if it ever comes, will be in the form of a major hurricane.

Photo of Beach Haven Terrace at the height of the 1944 hurricane.
Click to see a larger image.
Big hurricanes that make it this far north are almost as rare as palm trees in New Jersey, and of the handful that do make it up this far, very few venture anywhere near our beaches. The reason can be found in the geographical outline of our coast which features both North Carolina and New England jutting further out into the ocean then New Jersey. Most hurricanes upon passing North Carolina head out to sea, those that don't continue due North threatening New England. To pose a threat to us a hurricane has to not only not head out to sea but make a gradual left turn after passing North Carolina all the while maintaining its strength over the cooler North Atlantic Waters.

This is not to say it can't happen. On September 14th of 1944, the eye of a class 3 hurricane brushed within 30 miles of the Jersey shore, during high tide, and caused in a mere 3 hours as much havoc as that wrought by the 1962 storm over the course of 3 days. Some old timers who experienced both storms firsthand swear that the hurricane was the worst of the two.

The 1944 Hurricane was responsible for approximately 390 deaths along the then sparsely populated Eastern seaboard and $100 million in damage of which $25 million was sustained by N.J. alone. On Long Beach Island over 300 homes were destroyed. Although Federal disaster relief was sought by Trenton, not one thin dime would ever arrive from Washington.

Consider, if you will, that in September of 1944 a 6 pack of Budweiser was priced at 50 cents and that the average yearly individual income totaled $4,027.00, in those days 25 million dollars was a serious money. Consider too that this damage was sustained by a coast than so sparsely populated that the politicians in Washington felt no pressure to provide relief.

Photo of the remains of two hurricane damaged houses.
Click to see a larger image.
In the over fifty years that have since passed New Jersey has had several close calls with major hurricanes, the most notable examples being Belle in 1976, Gloria in 1985, and Fran in 1996. Had any of these hurricanes ventured as close to our beaches during high tide as did that of 1944 we could have been faced with storms of equal intensity, but exceeded many times over in death and destruction. Far worse than even that, would be the consequences of a direct hit.

To comprehend the consequences of a direct hit by a hurricane you need to understand that dynamics of these deadly tropical storms.

A hurricane is a huge and powerful storm that feeds off of and gains its strength from the warm ocean waters beneath it. In the center of a hurricane is a calm area known as the eye, surrounding the eye is the eye wall. Moisture from the sea is sucked up through the eye wall from which it extends hundreds of miles out generating a huge rotating storm. The rotating storm, or hurricane, will depending on it strength, feature sustained winds of 74 to over 200 MPH. Because a hurricane always rotates in a counter clockwise direction the speed in which an Atlantic hurricane is moving north is added to the wind speed on the eastern side of the storm and subtracted from that of its western, landward, side.

Photo showing the posts that once supported the Beach Haven boardwalk.
Click to see a larger image.
An excellent example is provided by the 1944 hurricane which generated a sustained wind of 85 MPH. While out at sea, to the east of the hurricane, the wind was blowing at a steady 165 MPH.

On September 3rd of 1821, a category 4 hurricane smashed directly into Cape May Point from where the center of the storm moved north following a route approximated by today's Garden State Parkway. Hurricane force winds were experienced as far West as the City of Philadelphia, while the New Jersey shore endured the eastern side of the storm with winds of 200mph.

Mercifully, in 1821, virtually no one lived on New Jersey's barrier Islands. Once over land the hurricane's strength rapidly diminished as it continued moving north, nevertheless as it passed over Long Beach Island it completely leveled a forest of cedar trees than covering much of our Island and irrevocably destroyed the islands numerous fresh water lakes. When finally the storm reached New York City, it brought with it massive flooding unsurpassed in the 136 years that have since passed.

There is no telling when the next hurricane will make land fall in New Jersey. The only thing that is certain is that it will happen again..... eventually.

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Copyright © 1997 by Greg Hoffman

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