Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hurricane Joaquin may hit NJ

Shore towns are bracing for heavy rains and flooding that forecasters say might hit New Jersey in the next week, as Hurricane Joaquin continues to strengthen in the western Atlantic.

Joaquin might cause major coastal flooding, said Jon K. Miller, a coastal engineering professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

Stevens flood models show greater than moderate coastal flooding “pretty much up and down the coast, which is pretty significant,” he said.

“The other factor is the beaches have been hammered over the last week or so,” said Miller, Stevens-Sea Grant coastal processes specialist. “We’ve had an extended period of large waves over the past week or so.”

Many beaches have scarps, or cuts, in the beach face, he said. If Joaquin follows its forecast track, “it looks like it will bring significant storm surge and large waves, and that’s not going to be good.”

The National Hurricane Center upgraded Joaquin to hurricane status around 8 a.m. Wednesday. At 11 a.m., Joaquin's top sustained winds had increased to near 80 mph, with higher gusts. The storm was heading toward the southwest at close to 6 mph, and it could become a major hurricane (with at least 111 mph peak sustained winds) during the next couple of days.

The center's 11 a.m. forecast map showed Joaquin as a hurricane centered southeast of Cape May at 8 a.m. Monday.

"It looks like it's headed toward New Jersey, but I would say there's a lot of uncertainty with the storm right now," said Al Cope, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Mount Holly station.

New Jersey is expected to get up to about 10 inches of rain by next Wednesday, according to the service. 

Joaquin could also create conditions New Jersey residents haven't seen since superstorm Sandy hit three years ago: strong winds, heavy surf, beach erosion and coastal as well as inland flooding, Cope said.

Well before the Joaquin may arrive, coastal New Jersey may see repeated tidal flooding. A coastal flood advisory is in effect in Monmouth and Ocean counties until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the weather service. Widespread minor tidal flooding is expected during multiple high tide cycles beginning midday Thursday and possibly lasting into the weekend after strong northeast winds resume, along with a building surge and 6- to 9-foot breaking waves.

Moderate coastal flooding is possible during the midday high tide cycles, the advisory says. A coastal flood watch will be issued if confidence increases regarding a moderate or greater coastal flood event.

A gale warning is also in effect from 2 a.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Friday for coastal waters off Monmouth and Ocean counties. Northeast winds gusting to 46 mph are expected Thursday, with seas building to 9 to 13 feet. Intermittent gale-force northeast winds and seas around 10 feet are likely on Friday and into the weekend.

Miller, of Stevens Institute, said Joaquin’s impacts might be different than Sandy’s. Sandy was more of a hybrid storm that created very large waves over a large area for a long time, he said. But back bay areas of New Jersey will definitely see some flooding, based on the current forecast track, he said.

Many beaches are in good shape following beach restoration projects and there’s a lot of sand on them, he said. Beaches that have not been restored – primarily from Point Pleasant Beach through Seaside Park – will remain more vulnerable than others.

Long Beach Island towns that lack restored beaches have benefited from sand that was pumped on other island beaches, he added.

Still, he suspects that Joaquin, if it follows the current forecast track, "would start to cut into the dunes, which is never a good thing," he said. "The dunes are sort of your last line of defense, so you don’t want to see those compromised."

Officials in Monmouth and Ocean counties are preparing for Joaquin, building barriers and warning residents to keep storm drains clear.

Belmar built sand dunes along the beach and started lowering lakes, Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty tweeted.

"In particular we are pumping out water from Lake Como," he told a Press reporter in an email. "It started last night and will run all day today."

Neptune City police asked residents and business owners to avoid leaving debris, building material and on the curb line to make sure the storm drains are clear, according to the department's Facebook page.

Harvey Cedars officials are having the remaining lifeguard benches, trash cans and park benches removed from the beach area, according to police.

In many municipalities, officials are meeting Wednesday to solidify their storm preparation plans.

Between Tuesday night and Wednesday, Joaquin is expected to bring moderate to heavy rainfall, according to the Mount Holly hazardous weather outlook. The rain could lead to local flooding in areas with poor drainage. Significant river flooding is possible in most of New Jersey, in Mounmouth and Ocean counties. APP

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