Forecaster: We Erred on the Side of Caution
For those who were hoping that Tropical Storm Hermine was going to provide the area with much-needed rainfall with an honest-to-goodness soaker, they came away disappointed. But a veteran meteorologist said that any time there is the potential for a tropical storm or a hurricane to affect the Jersey Shore, weather forecasts are likely to dwell on possible worst-case scenarios so that people are well prepared.
“If you’re going to err, you’d better do it on the side of caution,” said Jim Eberwine, retired lead forecaster and hurricane program manager for the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly. “You don’t want to minimize something and then have it turn out to be a major event. Preparedness was especially important because it was Labor Day weekend, a very busy time for traveling when there would be a lot of people heading to the shore.”
Eberwine said that a few days before the start of the holiday weekend, forecasters started becoming concerned about Hermine as it began a projected path up the East Coast. In fact, Friday weather reports on the various news stations showed the storm hitting New Jersey hard with heavy rain and high winds late that night into Saturday morning.
“Initially, the National Hurricane Center had it moving to the left (west) after passing over the North Carolina coast,” he said. “But these storms can be difficult to track as the center looks at various computer models. The storm wound up going much further east, so about the only things we were going to get were rough surf, very strong rip currents, minor tidal flooding and minor beach erosion.”
Eberwine is also the emergency management coordinator in Absecon, where he resides.
“I was in touch with emergency management groups on Long Beach Island, and their biggest concern was minor flooding,” he said. “The groups on the Island work very well. They’re good at getting warnings out to the community.”
Eberwine said had Hermine taken that left track as had been projected, Long Beach Island would have had 9-foot tides and hurricane-force winds.
“It would not have been as bad as Sandy, but it still could have resulted in major flooding and also wind damage. When forecasters saw that possibility, they stressed the importance of preparedness.”
Initially, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had said tropical storm conditions were likely until the middle of the week.
“It was going to be very slow moving once it got close to the Jersey Shore,” said Eberwine. “Fortunately, it went out to sea.”
In Barnegat Township, the police department and office of emergency management had a voluntary evacuation notice for residents in areas of Bayshore Drive and East Bay Avenue. They recommended that residents move vehicles to higher ground and secure all loose outdoor items. At the time, forecasts indicated the potential for moderate to major flooding, which would likely have made Bayshore Drive and East Bay Avenue impassable between the bathing beach and the East Bay Bridge.
“You have bayfront and back bay areas that create water impoundment,” said Mayor John Novak, who lives near the area. “The water has nowhere to go, creating an impassable situation.”
Novak said it appeared that nobody evacuated.
“We were very fortunate that the storm stayed well out over the ocean, and didn’t wind up creating any problems in town,” he said. “The lights flickered a few times during some wind gusts, but that’s nothing unusual.”
— Eric Englund