Liquid Lines

Lay Off the Weatherman: We Dodged a Bullet and Got Stellar Waves

Hermine Could Have Been Much Worse
By JON COEN | Sep 07, 2016
Photo by: Melanie Cassie Hurricane Hermine, looking just splendid in Ship Bottom, despite the bum forecast.

If you’ve read a Liquid Lines column or two, you know that one thing I like to do here is make fun, or “take the piss,” as our British friends say. I do my best to entertain. And that generally means I have poked fun at everyone – angry locals, clueless visitors, rednecks, the establishment, silly ordinances, hipsters, cover bands, frat boys, pot heads, racists, whiners, pop music, narcissists, conspiracy theorists, homophobes, litterbugs, golfers, guidos, overzealous Facebookers and people who wear Crocs. Of course, I have no problem taking shots at surfers who take themselves too seriously. And then there’s Jimmy Buffett. There’s always Jimmy Buffett.

So it makes sense that I’d be right there with everyone else, having a field day, teeing off on the weathermen who got the Labor Day forecast wrong. I mean, after all, they said something about a hurricane last weekend, and Sunday and Monday wound up being nice days. How much business did the Long Beach Island area lose thanks to those killjoys?

I spoke to a lot of locals and tourists this week and heard a lot of gripes.

I cannot believe the way the weathermen blew that call. Typical! All for the hype and ratings!

Look, when it comes to sensationalism, I am right there, ready to verbally slap the guilty party in the back of the head. And The Weather Channel is a shell of its former self. But I am going to go ahead and defend the weather folk on this one.

What? But it was gorgeous and sunny! And it was the last weekend of the season for the local businesses.

Yes, the sun was out on Sunday and part of Monday. Saturday was the only dreary day. But both Sunday and Monday had harder onshore winds than we’ve had all summer. To the best of my knowledge, people come to LBI on Labor Day weekend to swim in the ocean and sit on the beach. Most beach patrols didn’t allow swimming because of giant storm surf. And if you spent more than five minutes on the beach, you got sandblasted Sunday. So unless you were going for exfoliation, it was not a perfect weekend at the coast. Folks may not have been as apt to come down this weekend, simply knowing that or fearing more. Also, some businesses had a banner weekend despite it all.

Hurricane my ass!

Ummmm, there was a hurricane, which morphed into a powerful post-tropical cyclone within 300 miles of our coast – for four days. That was predicted. Forecasters were off on the timing of the height of the storm and it tracked farther east than the computer guidance showed. Then on Monday it was actually tracking back toward our coast.

It was a very powerful storm.

I am simply baffled by folks who claim that there simply was “no storm” because the storm didn’t actually hit us. I know not everyone follows the weather as closely as surfers, but the amount of ignorance is amazing. It’s the same mentality that tells us global warming isn’t happening because that one day last winter was cold.

But it didn’t even rain.

No, it didn’t. But if you remember, the rain from Sandy was pretty insignificant, too, and there’s still mold in your crawlspace from that. On Monday, there was pretty significant water on the Boulevard and we were hundreds of miles from the nearest rain cloud. My weather sources were pretty clear that Hermine dropped all that rain in the South, but might be far enough offshore of the Mid-Atlantic to not soak us. The threat was the storm surge. Thankfully, that never materialized.

But they got it wrong. I could never get away with being that wrong at my job!

OK, that’s fair. Everyone who gave the weathermen a hard time was a nuclear physicist or heart surgeon. Totally understandable.

Meteorologists are asked to predict the future. Based on past events and current observations, they’re supposed to predict exactly what a tropical cyclone is going to do days in advance. Keep in mind that the National Hurricane Center had been watching Hermine since it was a fart and a cloud back in mid-August and it didn’t even become a tropical storm until Aug. 31!

Look, here’s what I’m trying to say – make all the jokes you want about meteorologists. They’re all drawing from computer models and trying to assess what the most likely scenario will be. Do I feel silly for moving everything off the ground floor to my brother’s attic? Yes. But had this storm come 100 miles to the west, which is a pretty insignificant distance when you look at the entire Atlantic Ocean, we would have had a much different story.

Picture a standard Labor Day weekend when the general public is marching across the Boulevard with their beach wheel carts. But imagine the weathermen didn’t warn us about the impending storm.

The wind isn’t too bad, but offshore, it’s 70 mph, just pushing water into our inlets … for maybe 40 hours, six tide cycles. And with each high tide, more salt water floods down the streets as the ocean laps at our recently built dunes. And since the meteorologists didn’t want to ruin Labor Day at the shore, everyone is caught off guard – 150,000 people throwing sandy umbrellas and half-full bottles of Fireball into SUVs and trying to drive through 3 feet of water toward the bridge. Red solo cups and flip-flops float down the street. As a matter of public safety, they made the right call.  We dodged a bullet. And I am grateful that they blew the forecast.

SWELL WRAP: All summer, we were looking for a tropical storm to zip past our coast to deliver waves and equalize the recent beachfill projects. Well, Hermine did anything but a buzz by. She delivered waves, and certainly moved around a few grains of sand. And if the weather forecasters got it wrong, the surf forecasters didn’t do much better. The truth is, we were not supposed to have much good surf this weekend. Onshore winds were supposed to batter us from Saturday through Tuesday.

Just as we won on the poor weather forecast, we won on the poor wave forecast. I don’t think any of us envisioned the kind of stellar surf that came pouring through on Monday.

But before we get all celebratory on the biggest and best waves we’ve had in four months, let’s just acknowledge the appetizer that led to the main feast. That Gaston swell that was running a week ago was a pretty nice way to start. The Hermine swell started to build on Sunday as mostly windswell. This was about the height of the wind, so it was disorganized for sure, but if you just wanted to walk up your street instead of a six-hour drive to Long Island, it was still worth it. I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have been out there in cold water, but when the ocean is like a bathtub and the surf is overhead, it’s still worth a drift. A lot of spots had decent lefts and some fast, against-the-grain rights with roll-ins that led to fast drops. The South End was coming back and offered some fast, peeling lefts. Most of them didn’t line up perfectly, but with a little persistence, you could have had some fun. Why not just go out and duck dive in warm water all day? I also noticed that because of the longer swell period, you actually had time between waves to get a few strokes in, as opposed to normal nor’easters when you have to duck a wave every two seconds. Of course, if you were a kiteboarder, it was a festival out there.

The winds were supposed to be harder and north on Labor Day, but like every other forecast, that proved wrong and we awoke to moderate north/northwest winds. This opened up a few peaks at better breaks and sent a few curious heads to the South End, where everything has been buried since last spring.

On Friday, after some sand had moved thanks to Gaston and the first winds of Hermine, there were two rows of pilings unearthed at the Wooden Jetty. By Sunday, our beloved structure had fully emerged, and the stretch of Holgate from Beach One into the Forsythe Refuge was on fire. This was not a swell for the feint of heart. The break is extremely critical and tight to the beach, which makes most local surfers drool. Those first hellmen who made it out through the heavy 6-to-8-foot swell were rewarded with some of the longest barrels in recent history. Manahawkin’s Dave Werner logged several long tubes, and legend has it that Royce Weber of Surf City had nine turns on one wave, as he slid his way toward Atlantic City. Mid-Island was OK as well. And the Barnegat Light crew certainly deserved whatever waves they got, paddling through all manner of massive junk for a few drops.

The wind still had some north in it through midday, but by afternoon it was straight offshore. No one had predicted that happening. The surf was still a solid 4- to 6-foot, and as the tide dropped out, there were some completely mental sets draining over the sandbar. The drift was pretty stiff, but if you could hold position, the left lines were just what every surfer needed. And the crowd wasn’t all that bad – mostly locals, which is always nice.

This was one of those historic sessions. Because it was Labor Day, families and onlookers lined the beach. Since the storm had cut a 15-foot cliff in the engineered beaches, no one was allowed across the dunes (or, since they have no vegetation yet, piles of sand) at Beach One, meaning that everyone was crowded into the first few yards south of the Wooden Jetty. In a stroke of luck, the Forsythe Refuge just recently reopened. So essentially, there was a giant crowd like you might see in Hawaii, watching the action and admiring the massive waves. Granted, we get waves of this size all winter long, but summer folks have never witnessed it. The result was rows of spectators and friends, all slapping high fives to surfers running back up the beach. I’m telling you, it was glorious.

But the offshore wind meant that everywhere opened up. It may have not been the peeling lefts of the South End, but spots in Surf City and Ship Bottom offered wide-open drops on big, clean faces. All in all, it was a fantastic day to be a surfer on LBI.

AND THE SAND SAGA: As we had hoped, Hurricane Hermine moved a whole lot of sand around, bringing recently filled beaches back to more natural slopes, without doing much damage to actual dunes, except maybe in Holgate. The Army Corps of Engineers will tell you that the sand is still “in the system,” which is a good thing. The bottom line is that the beaches are much better now and we still have the dunes to protect us from this winter’s impeding storms. If the project’s goal was to choke off Beach Haven Inlet as quickly as possible, well then, mission accomplished.

Yep, once again, we understand the importance of fortifying our shoreline, but it’s clear that our communities are sick to death of those massive, engineered beaches. Let’s face it, the timing was terrible. Doing all that pumping right before and during summer, literally buried the thing that LBI is best known for at our most important time of the year (and when we need it least).

If you want to thank Hermine for the waves and not overflowing Barnegat Bay, you can also thank her for restoring some of our sandbars. Spots that were pumped as recently as August are even looking good again.

BETTER IN SEPTEMBER: I have to apologize for giving some faulty information a few weeks back when I announced that the Belmar Pro was canceled this year. The contest had, in fact, been shuttered, but the show will go on as the Fins Belmar Invitational, presented by Eastern Lines, next weekend, Sept. 9-11.  However, it will not be a World Surf League-sanctioned event. This year will feature the Men’s Open Invitational, Women’s Open, Longboard Open and Masters Open for anyone who wants to get in some competitive heats.

The following weekend, on Sept. 17, is the Makers Festival at Manahawkin Lake, which was a smashing success in its first year. It’s a chance to check out all the homegrown talent featuring over 120 makers, whose crafts include everything from handmade and vintage fashion, sculpting and woodworking, photography and fine art. Craft beer, music and food happen to be a big part of that scene, too.

Sept. 17 will also be the Naish LBI Paddle Cup for those who want to test their endurance on the water with different length races from Beach Haven to Harvey Cedars, individually or as a team. Find more info at Chowderfest weekend is Oct. 1 and 2. The waiting period for the 10th annual Jetty Clam Jam starts the following weekend.

Another summer has drawn to a close on LBI. We should see waves from Hermine, clearly one of the most interesting storms ever, until the end of the week. Keep an eye out for some windswell by this weekend. It’s supposed to get damn hot again, too. Hope you enjoyed this season, despite all those beaches that looked like some other planet and the lack of waves. Pour yourself something cold and play hooky as we slide into the best time of year.


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