Concerning the Elevated Water Issue and Calls to Dredge the Bay

There has been a lot of hearsay and conjecture regarding the elevated waters in the bay, and a call-to-action demanding the bay be dredged to alleviate the issue. It is unlikely debris (including sand and soil) are the cause of this as Archimedes Principle does not apply due to the fact that the bay is not a closed system. If you drop a bowling ball into a tub, the water level will indeed rise. The problem is, the bay is not a closed-system like a tub; it has open drains (inlets) at each end.  That is the first problem with the dredge-the-bay argument.

Secondly, while it is true that water levels in the bay have been running much higher than usual, so have water levels in the ocean and the inlets (there are plenty of tide gauge stations online, including one in Barnegat Inlet itself), demonstrating that the source of the flooding (the ocean) is high, and water, via gravity, wants to equilibrate and find a common level; it just so happens the location of that equilibrium point involves Barnegat Bay.

In fact, I am looking out my office window, which is right in the mouth of the an inlet (where the bays have unrestricted passage to drain back into the ocean), at a flooded marsh surface, and am keeping an eye on the tide via an array of USGS depth sensors to time my egress so as to not get trapped here by a flooded-out road until the next ebb late tonight. It is the ocean that is flooding the area here, NOT a bay allegedly swelled by debris.

USGS tide sensor at Little Egg Inlet

Great Bay Blvd just starting to flood

So, why is the ocean higher than usual? This can be explained by the fact that we are in a strong –NAO pattern, which sets up a high-pressure block over Greenland, which traps storms against the NE coast, causing extended periods of surge, thus increasing the duration and severity of coastal flooding events. In fact, this phenomenon is what caused Sandy to make that bizarre left-turn into the coast and is what has been causing storms to park near the coast and flood our shores since then.

Add to that that we are also in a +PNA pattern, which sets the stage for coastal storm development. Then note that we have a –AO dip in the jet stream feeding developing coastal storms with an ample supply of cold air. All this nurtures Nor’easters and supercharges them once they form.

If you need more explanation of all of this, please refer to the featured article I posted on March 5th titled “Some science behind the upcoming storm (and why people in the know are making a big deal of it)

This issue is much bigger than what happened/is going on in the tiny lagoonal estuary we call Barnegat Bay; it is a hemisphere-affecting phenomenon. I only hope the decision-makers listen to scientists who know better and not bow to the dredge-the-bay-from-shore-to-shore advocates pushing for well-intended but misguided gutting of the bay. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see a solution devised, but not based on mis-information and hysteria, and not at the expense of destroying the bay itself.

Current NAO, PNA, and AO

 

Some useful links:

http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv/?site_no=01409335

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/pna/new.nao_index_ensm.html

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/pna/new.pna_index_ensm.html

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/daily_ao_index/ao.shtml

 

Winter Storm Saturn sort-of-post-mortem comments

Well, post-mortem may be an erroneous descriptor as the storm is still quite active offshore of our coast and will continue to affect us for days to come, but since the dramatic wind and rain has backed off for now, it’s worth paying the subject a visit.

If you tuned in to the news or kept your eye on social media over the last 24 hours, you know that Winter Storm Saturn did indeed cause quite a bit of storm-surge flooding in certain areas, and considerably less in others; it seemed like the further south you looked, the greater the surge.  A few factors were at play in this phenomenon:

The storm ejected a bit south than originally predicted; entry into the Atlantic off the DelMarVa region was modeled, but it appears the center of circulation over open waters wound up being over the Carolinas.  That put Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay right in that trouble zone (just north of the “eye”) during the height of the storm; water entered the mouths of the bays but had no way out and stacked up.  I’ve seen some footage of cars up to their side-view mirrors down in Ocean City, Maryland and at least one floating in a wash-out in North Carolina.

In some localized cases, the strong sustained NE-NNE winds through the height of the storm appear to have pushed water towards the mainland side, relieving flooding pressure on the bay-side of the barrier islands but causing trouble at some low-lying communities situated in/near embayments on the mainland.  And while that eventual shift to N-NNW was good for some areas, assisting tidal drainage in North-South oriented bays like Barnegat, it cause trouble for communities on north-facing shorelines within bays like Tuckerton Beach and the north shore of Long Island, pushing water towards them.

Also, once the storm ejected off the coast, it initially took more of an eastward track instead of the anticipated NE path.  That resulted in an easing of the surge in the northern half of the state as time went by rather than increased surging from an obliquely-approaching storm; while northern and central NJ did indeed receive quite a bit of swell and surge (including some overwashing of seawalls, breaching of dunes weakened by Sandy, and some minor to moderate street and property flooding), the fetch of the winds (illustrated below) was maximized for southern NJ and the aforementioned DelMarVa region, resulting in feet, rather than inches, of surge in roadways and low-lying communities.

Illustration of the fetch from Winter Storm Saturn.  Image credit: Magicseaweed.com

So, the assessment of this storm to date is that it was a bit underwhelming in some areas (particularly if you were anticipating and bracing for the worst or a bit inland and hoping for a snow-event), overwhelming in others (particularly in the coastal areas in the southern half of NJ and DelMarVa), and absolutely fascinating due to it’s complexity.  Also, despite improved weather today, Saturn has stalled a bit over the Atlantic thanks to that -NAO I addressed in my post on Monday, making a turn to the NE, and receiving energy and moisture from another system approaching from the west via the Great Lakes, so it will continue to throw precipitation, swell and sideshore winds at our coast through the remainder of the work-week, which means continued storm surge (particularly around high tides) and sustained swell, which means further erosion of our already-battered beaches and dunes.  Since it ain’t over, I may post a post-post-mortem down the line, but this should feed your brain a bit for now.

 

 

 

Some science behind the upcoming storm (and why people in the know are making a big deal of it)

So, why is everyone making a big deal about the upcoming storm? Besides the obvious vulnerabilities to our Sandy-damaged shorelines and communities (ocean and bayside areas will be vulnerable to coastal flooding, erosion, and wash-over events due to increased water levels and wave heights; low-lying areas inland may also be susceptible to flooding from nearby creeks and even storm drains), there are a number of variables that are coming together that may have cumulative (bad) effects.

First is the fact that it looks like the storm looks like it is going to have tight circulation, with an “eye” and the appearance of a tropical storm/hurricane, which means conditions may mimic the effects of one as well. Here is a screen-grab of the wind prediction posted over at magicseaweed.com:

Because it looks like this storm is going to eject somewhere off the Mid-Atlantic seaboard and be slow to move off, it is likely that the tri-state area is going to be on the “wrong side” (North) of the storm’s center, receiving strong NE-NNE-N winds for a good period of time, maximizing wind, waves, and storm-surge.  This means that nearshore waters and back-bays will likely have trouble draining as the tidal ebb out to sea will have to fight a continued surging of water towards land.  Again, I’ll post a screen-grab from magicseaweed.com illustrating this point:

The good news is that we are between the new and full moon states at the moment, which means the storm surge won’t have too much of an assist from the lunar tide.

 

Now, let me introduce a little equation punctuated with some humor:

(+PNA)+(-NAO)+(-AO)= OMG!

(I added the “OMG!” for comedic effect, but the three variables on the left side of the equation are legit)

 

PNA

The PNA (Pacific/North American Teleconnection Pattern) is a driving factor in storm formation in the northern hemisphere.  Associated with the strength and location of the East Asian Jet Stream, it encourages or suppresses storm formation.  A –PNA brings warm weather up from the South, which encourages tropical development (this is the mechanism by which Hurricane Sandy gained strength as she moved up the Eastern Seaboard), while a +PNA state brings cold weather down from the Arctic and fuels winter storm development.  We are currently in a strong +PNA.

 

AO

The AO (Arctic Oscillation) sets up either warm air over the eastern half of the United States during its positive phase or allows cold, dry arctic air to plunge southward during its negative phase.  This plunging of cold, dry arctic air can fuel developing winter coastal storms.  A shift from a positive to negative AO at precisely the “right time” set up conditions to spawn a Nor’easter that then fused with Sandy, resulting in her transformation from a warm-core hurricane to cold-core hybrid storm) as she approached the eastern seaboard.  This is what appears to be setting up for this mid-week storm (not a hybridization, but rather the development of a true cold-core Nor’easter).

 

NAO

The NAO (North American Oscillation) is part of the Arctic Oscillation and is another strong driving factor in storm movement in the Atlantic basin.  A +NAO leads to increased westerly winds around the arctic and keeps cold air constrained to higher latitudes.  Storms are allowed to move freely, and if a strong Bermuda High is at work, they latch onto it and ride it like an escalator into open water.  Conversely, a -NAO results in suppressed westerly winds, allows cold Arctic air to slip south, and allows a “blocking high” to setup over Greenland.  This blocking high, true to it’s moniker, hinders storms from moving off to the northeast; they get “stuck” against the coast, and if a cold-core storm and fed an ample supply of cold arctic air (see AO, above), continue to churn (throwing swell and surge against the coast).  This –NAO is what happened during Sandy, and what is happening now; this storm will likely get held against the coast for an extended period of time by this blocking action.

 

Hopefully that explains some of the science behind why this storm is the talk of the town.

On a final note, looking back to the coastal flooding we experienced on December 27th, which was a news-worthy event in itself as it flooded out a number of homes in low-lying areas that had never been flooded out until Sandy came along:  Unlike the upcoming event, it came during an extreme lunar tide, so its surge had a bit of additional help in that respect.  That said, it was under a +PNA, -AO, +NAO state, so while a broad, slow-moving storm, it had a clearer path out to sea (thanks to less blocking) than this one will likely have.  Regardless of these minor differences, the similarities between the two systems are enough to serve as a heads-up regarding what we may soon experience.

 

Barrier Island Migration

Harvested from Google Earth, this image speaks volumes on the issue of barrier island migration.  The principle is that during periods of sea-level rise, barrier islands will “migrate” inland via erosion and long-shore transport of sediment followed by its deposition elsewhere.  All this is facilitated by storm-driven wash-over events, such as those that occurred during Superstorm Sandy, that “push” (the actual mechanism is more akin to disassembly and reassembly) the barrier island back towards the mainland.  Conversely, during periods of sea-level fall, barrier islands will relocate sea-ward due to reduced erosion and increased near-shore sediment deposition at and just beyond the ocean-front margins.

Google Earth screen-grab of the Holgate-Forsythe border

The image here is the south end of Long Beach Island (LBI), showing the populated, and “hardened”, area of Holgate in Long Beach Township and the preserved natural area of the Forsythe Reserve to its South.  For the most part, fortification has stabilized the developed portion, but for anyone who is familiar with the area, it has come at the expense of the beach (hardening a shoreline often accelerates erosion at the beach front) itself, and many ocean-front houses exist under a constant state of threat by waves and surge, while the preserved natural area has been allowed to follow the natural path of Westward migration and thus has self-maintained a healthier beach profile.

 

Some may take this information as proof that fortification/hardening of the beach front works, but many experts in the field feel that what some consider a permanent solution is actually a temporary fix, and likely provides a false sense of security by convincing people to stay-put, actually putting them in harm’s way by providing erroneous reassurance.  Bearing in mind that rising waters, storms like Sandy, and likely time itself may eventually prove futile the efforts made to nail-down the island where it currently lies.

 

Another interesting point to note is that, while the Forsythe Reserve area did indeed experience over-wash and breaching during Sandy, these breaches have filled in via natural sediment transport, requiring no human intervention, since the event.

02/27/2013 Sorta-report

Report: Definitely some big surf out there, and now that the wind has come around to SW-WSW it’s starting to clean up, BUT all the coastal flooding this AM + debris left by Sandy on various inaccessible marsh surfaces = lots of dangerous jetsam in the water. I just saw a serious piling drift out of Little Egg Inlet, coming to a lineup near you (?). Be careful out there if you decide to charge it.

Prediction: Anticipate some mid-period East swell leftovers tomorrow AM, with offshore winds (WSW early coming around to WNW in afternoon), but you might have to plan around a pretty big mid-AM high tide around 9AM.

Adding some perspective to “The Dune Debate”

I just got back from a business trip to South Carolina.  A sight observed during a walk down to their beach puts into perspective the chatter and debate about the small engineered dune systems (translation: small piles of sand with a little dune grass planted on top) being reconstructed and/or newly-considered (and in some cases protested) on beach fronts in my home state of NJ versus more expansive and robust natural dunes (pictured) such as those in the Pawley’s Island area that were embraced and incorporated in their development.

 
Some may debate, with validity, whether the development shown in this photo is too close to the ocean, but it can’t be debated that dunes such as these provide far better protection than the little piles of sand we call dunes in NJ. Except for some preserved areas (such as those in Sandy Hook, Island Beach State Park, Barnegat Light, Forsythe, etc.), dunes such as these are the exception, rather than the rule, in NJ, which is a shame as they provide far better protection to that which lies behind them, be it natural habitat, wildlife, or people and their possessions such as homes, businesses, and infrastructure.

 

As you can see, there are multiple tiers and elevations to this dune, the vegetation is far denser and more diverse than what we see on ours, and if you click through to the full-size image you can see how elevated walkways were constructed over the dunes rather than cut through them, which would weaken their integrity during storm surge events with significant wave action.

Something to consider in the ongoing debate.

01/30/13 Report and Prediction

It’s been quite a while since our last official posting here, and while not a “triumphant return”, it is a return to normalcy, nonetheless.  Yes, we have been active on Facebook, attempting to bring you surf news and current events from our little corner of the surf world.  Sure, we’ve had a number of bangin’ swells since Sandy that we saw coming, but we were just not yet ready to call ’em.  Add to that the destruction and heartache lingers, travel in many barrier island towns is restricted, many beaches are still technically off-limits, and surfing and having any sort of fun is still the last thing on many peoples’ minds.

For those, and many other, reasons I cannot objectively identify what compelled me to make this post today as the recovery process, painfully frustrating and slow, is still an ongoing reality for me.  I cannot explain why, but something spoke to me today, so here I am now, and here goes my first report and prediction of 2013:

Report: Foggy, minimal swell; it’s the calm before the storm.

Prediction:  A strong differential in temperature and pressure is setting up over us for this evening, bringing with it potentially nasty and possibly violent, winds and weather this evening.  With the anticipated wind, rain, coastal flooding, thunder, lightning, and potential tornadoes comes the potential for a healthy South swell to develop overnight.

Extended Forecast: A shift to strong offshore winds is slated for tomorrow morning (check sources of local weather for specific timing), which should quickly groom a solid swell once they arrive.  While the winds could knock down the size a bit by the afternoon, something about the numbers suggest staying-power through the day to me.  Sticking around until Friday AM is questionable; however, with an early-AM incoming push I suppose something worthwhile may be available for the early-birds.

Outlook for future forecasts: To be honest, I’m way too busy to wholeheartedly commit to posting regularly-scheduled predictions and warn you that there may be another long period of radio silence.  I’ll also remind you this is a voluntary service to the surf community as we don’t currently generate any funds through ad-sales or sponsorships, so I reserve the right to concentrate on my family, personal business, and reconstruction of my home until the (saw)dust settles.  As usual, updates here will be announced on our Facebook page, so it would be wise to subscribe to that to be kept in the loop.  Thanks for understanding.

A Report/Prediction of a Different Kind

Hi All,

Obviously, a lot has happened since our last report and prediction.  It goes without saying that Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy kicked our ass.  By no doubt you have already seen the destruction relayed by various media and as a first-hand observer of the aftermath it is as bad over there as the media has been showing… probably even worse as photos and videos just don’t seem to capture the experience as well as seeing it with one’s own eyes and speaking with those who lost some/a lot (including us at Eastcoastsurfer) or even it all (as a few of our friends/users have).  It is impossible to put into words what seeing the iconic Casino Pier in shambles was like, nor seeing the remnants of surf shops and local businesses who we supported and, in turn, were friends and supporters of us.  Times are tough and hopefully we will recover, but through conversations with those “in the loop” and those who know about infrastructure assessment, demolition, and repair, I’m sure it won’t be anytime soon and may very well never be as it once was.

The upcoming Nor’easter today into tomorrow will likely add insult to injury in the form of additional water-damage (residents of even salvageable homes in many areas have not been allowed to return home to make repairs to roofs and windows) and could even flood and weaken already-undermined foundations, adding to the frustration and despair of the situation.

I am not sure when we will resume our usual reports and predictions as access to the barrier islands (and therefore the surf they have to offer) is extremely restricted, and to be honest my actual job and the needs of my family must come first for the time being.  We are utilizing our Facebook page to occasionally cherry-pick information from other sites and make quick comments that may be informative and useful to those affected by the event and/or concerned for their fellow humans.  Until then, be well, be safe, and hold in there; I know this is easier said than done but it is the best encouragement I can offer at the moment.

Sincerely,

Professor Sak and Brent

Saturday 10/27/12 Report and Prediction

Report: Some windswell out there today with onshore winds.  Rideable, but most will probably choose to batten down the hatches in preparation for Sandy.

Prediction: Sandy has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm, but don’t let that fool you into thinking we are out of the woods yet.  She will meet and hybridize with a developing noreaster/area of low pressure, barometric pressure is expected to bomb-out, and the hybrid storm is expected to get drawn back towards the mid-Atlantic coast, pushing a big storm surge ahead of her landfall.  The fact that her arrival coincides with a lunar high tide is going to exacerbate the surge.  The exact location of landfall is not clear, but most likely somewhere between DelMarVa and Long Island/Rhode Island.  Areas at and just to the north of the eye will likely see the worst winds and flooding, but this will be a (dimensionally) big storm so areas between Virgina and southern New England will likely be significantly affected.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you made it through Irene relatively unscathed that Sandy will be equally painless; this is a whole different track, approach, setup, dynamic, etc.  Evacuations of low coastal areas are recommended and may very well become mandatory as there is no comparison between the two storms and Sandy may prove to be many times the storm that Irene ever hoped to be.

Extended Forecast:  As the storm moves inland, areas to the south of the center-of-rotation landfall zone will be the first to see offshore winds, followed by areas at and north of it.  Expect strong offshore winds to beat down the swell rather quickly, and be aware of dangerous conditions and debris as flooded-out areas and back-bays empty their contents back into the ocean.  For that reason, surfing post-storm is not advised and you should consider yourself one against nature if you choose to enter the water (which should always be your attitude, but especially in this case).

Friday 10/19/12 Report and Prediction

Report:  Some underlying mid-period ESE groundswell, but SSE winds are stepping all over it and introducing a bit of side-chop.

Prediction:  Much of the same through the rest of today, with winds possibly assuming a more S or even SSW tilt by dusk.  Winds are predicted to come around pretty strong from the SW overnight.  Saturday should see improved/improving conditions, with mixed ESE groundswell/S windswell and winds predicted to come around more WSW-W early or mid-morning.  Monitor sources of local weather for up to date wind information.

Extended Forecast:  Smaller leftover-style conditions with W-WNW winds predicted for Sunday, but I would not be surprised if a small-but-fun wave remains for low-incoming tide in the AM.   Looking way ahead, it looks like some small mid-period background swell might show early work-week.  Check back late-weekend for an update.