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Pintails to Spaghetti Models: All Eyes on Hurricane Matthew This Week

Major Hurricane Could Creat Epic Surf or a Path of Destruction
By JON COEN | Oct 04, 2016
Courtesy of: National Hurricane Center/NOAA It’s hard to talk about anything besides Hurricane Matthew this week. The Wednesday morning forecast map from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm may move out to sea before reaching our area.

This is one of the hardest columns I have ever had to write.

I understand that most everyone was blissfully unaware all week that a major hurricane – well, actually a major, major hurricane – was churning through the southern Caribbean Sea.

How major? Well, at one point last Friday, Hurricane Matthew was a Cat 5 storm. And just to give you an idea, there is no Category 6. If there’s a Cat 6 heading your way, your hurricane emergency kit is a snorkel and a bag of weed.

Fortunately, Matthew toned it down to a Cat 4, which about as comforting as remembering you’re wearing a helmet when your parachute doesn’t open.

And now as Matthew comes churning north on an uncertain path, hopefully, we’re all at least cognizant of it’s presence. (And now that you’re aware, I realize I should have gone to ShopRite for eggs and batteries much sooner.)

Unless you have zero knowledge of East Coast surfing, you understand that surfers and hurricanes have a pretty close relationship. In fact, I’d say that regarding interest and knowledge of cyclonic activity in the Atlantic Ocean, our level of interest ranks somewhere between guys who sell generators and the National Hurricane Center. That’s to say, we know our s**t. I’d say golfers tend to be a pretty educated bunch, but if you needed to explain eye wall formation, the 15-year-old kid at the local surf shop would be your guy over the smartest folks on the green. Hence, knowledge of this storm was limited to meteorologists, people who keep plastic bins for wetsuits in their vehicles at all time and old folks who still sit down and watch network news. Because it was so far off, the rest of society was basically just living their lives.

But surfers and keen coastal folks have been tracking Matthew now for 10 days (two weeks for individuals with hurting social lives like myself). And that time has been an emotional roller coaster.

Yeah, I’m making jokes. I’ve tried to keep this light so far, but I am by no means downplaying the significance or danger of this storm. But I know some folks will wonder why we’re even wasting all this ink talking about something that may turn out to be a little wind on LBI (during a kite fest, no less). But because we are so keyed into these phenomena, we can’t ignore that no matter what, there’s been and could be further degree of death, destruction and human suffering. And I am not taking that lightly. The Caribbean just got absolutely shelled by Matthew and as The SandPaper goes to print, we have no idea what’s in store for the New Jersey coast.

And that has been why some of our stress levels have been going up and down this week: because there are many possibilities as to the outcome of this storm. Like most LBI surfers, I’ve ridden some amazing hurricane swells – Bertha, Bob, Felix, Hermine last month, Ernesto, Floyd, Wilma, Cristobal. Some weren’t all that great, like post-Irene and pre-Sandy, but memorable nonetheless. Honestly, we lose track.

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum for us – the much darker, much scarier, much wet sheetrockier outcomes.

Let’s talk about spaghetti models. While this might sound like the happy gluten gluttons in a pasta ad, (“Anthony!” They don’t make commercials like that old Prince Spaghetti one anymore) it’s actually a bunch of readings spit out of a computer. The “models,” as we say, are all results of different programs that take weather observations into account, run them through a formula and predict where a storm is going, when it will take that path and how strong it will be. There are a bunch of models, and when all are presented simultaneously, the storm tracks can look like spaghetti thrown all over the place.

They’re rarely ever in complete agreement. I guess if they were, they’d look more like one piece of pappardelle?

There are several models that forecasters rely on most, primarily the Euro, European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting; the GFS, aka Global Forecasting System, run by the National Weather Service; the GFDL, run by the National Weather Service; the UKMET, run by the government of the UK; the U.S. Navy’s NOGAPS; the HWRF, also run by the National Weather Service. Yes, this is all very confusing.

What’s important here is that the models were all in agreement that Matthew would take this low route through the Caribbean and then make a sharp northerly turn. Early on, we could see that Jamaica, Hispanola and Cuba were going to get the worst of it. And it would then go blasting up through the Bahamas, and likely near Florida. And we knew hitting land would “knock the mick out of it” (that’s a Jay Mann term that I find offensive as an Irish American). But this track was pretty certain from about Friday through Tuesday.

But once Matthew re-emerged into the open Atlantic, there wasn’t as much consensus. Check that – the major models weren’t really all in that much disagreement. However, in a case where a storm is so close to land, a one- or two-degree difference in heading can mean either landfall or a breeze-by.

So, some of us were really sweating this week. One model would show an absolutely stellar forecast for giant waves and offshore winds with no landfall. Then the next would have Hurricane Matthew coming to the Quelle for beers (they’re closed for renovations, Matt, take a hike). Then our local surf forecaster, Rick Huegi, or our favorite coastal resiliency specialist, Chris Huch, would text the latest models. Our nerves are shot before the storm has arrived.

As of press time, it is not out of the question that we could take a beating from Hurricane Matthew. Things are looking pretty ominous, in fact, for North Carolina.  I would say if it’s only high winds, moderate coastal flooding ala 2011’s Hurricane Irene, and beach erosion, we will be very lucky.

The crazy thing is, we may not even deal with Matthew until next week. Even though we’ve been tracking this thing longer than it would take Donald Trump to say three grammatically correct, coherent sentences in a row, we still aren’t sure what to expect. So, I’m not saying to gather your kids and insurance papers and drive to the Poconos. But I’m not saying you should tear off your roof for that renovation/addition on Monday either.

I’d rather not discuss the worst-case scenario, but these are the things we need to keep in mind.

  1. Rainfall. Matthew was set to dump 40 inches of rain on parts of Haiti. Can you imagine that in the Ship Bottom circle? We’ve done our best to prepare for storm surge, which is vital. But keep in mind that Sandy was only about five inches of rain. Imagine storm surge and rain?
  2. Storm speed. A fast-moving, powerful storm sounds terrifying, no doubt. But a storm that’s less powerful and moving slower can pound an area even worse, especially with storm surge flooding. The reason we were on high alert with Hermine is because she slowed to a crawl as an extra tropical storm, and actually did a loop-de-loop just offshore of us. Fortunately, she jogged just east of where the models had her originally.
  3. Initial landfall. It’s sucks to have to say this, but if someone else takes the brunt of the storm, we make out better. For instance, if Matthew hits the Carolinas, it will significantly weaken. And it’s a bummer to have to root for Mathew to have to slug anywhere else. If you recall, just a few days after Superstorm Sandy, the crew at Eastern Surf Magazine drove a few box trucks up from Florida, collecting donations from every surf community on the East Coast for us. Not to sing “Kumbaya” here, but we all experience the same stuff.  We all have friends in Florida, Hatteras, Maryland and, for that matter, maybe those Caribbean nations that are so hurting right now.
  4. Beaches took a beatin’. All those recently pumped beaches on LBI had a few yards shaved off them in the nor’easter last week. Fortunately, we do have those huge, engineered dunes in place, though. But be aware, some that have been built since last spring never had vegetation planted. That means they aren’t really dunes, but just piles of sand, much more prone to erosion. Depending on how close Matthew gets, we could see some serious sand loss.

OTHER STUFF BESIDES A GIANT HURRICANE HEADING OUR WAY: Chowderfest came and went, and after a pretty mucky day for Merchants Mart, Chowderfest came off mostly dry, and then those glorious lights went back to blinking yellow. With any luck we have a few weeks of autumnal (and no landfalling hurricane) bliss while the Island is ours again.

Last Thursday, Jetty had the annual Clam Jam team selection party at the Old Causeway Steak and Oyster House, which was, as always, an absolute hoot. Over the 10-year history of this event, our surf community has become so much tighter and friendlier. There are some great pairings, and the event has forged some solid friendships over the years. The first potential weekend for the Clam Jam will be this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8 and 9.

Guess we can’t not talk about Hurricane Matthew actually. Mathew would have to move quicker than forecasted to be a player this weekend. For those who are optimists, I guess there’s the potential for 8- to 10-foot barrels and offshore winds. But we are more likely looking at northeast winds and building groundswell. Let’s hope we’re watching for swell the next weekend and not following around START’s Joe Mangino gutting houses.

In other Jetty news, the flagship store on Route 9 in Manahawkin is featuring Seaside Park photographer Dave Nilson’s work. Check out his surf photos and the collaborative T-shirt he is doing with the local brand.

This weekend is also the Annual LBI Fly International Kite Festival, which is primarily on the beaches of Ship Bottom and was really cool last year, especially for families. They may have to watch the wind by Sunday.

MORE IMMIDIATE FORECAST BESIDES A GIANT HURRICANE HEADING OUR WAY: Well, the wind is supposed to start blowing northeast again. Yeah, I know, isn’t that weird? We had a pretty major blow last Thursday to Saturday. In keeping with the ongoing trend of this fall so far, the wind decided to never go offshore again. So what we wound up with was something to shoulder high waves on Sunday evening and Monday morning, pretty clean, but not really there for a great session. I did see a few guys get waves Monday, some in trunks.

Which brings me to my next point, which is that the ocean is warm, like hella warm. I jumped in a few times in the last week and it’s not bad at all. You have to love a nice, warm October. Hurricanes love warm water, too.

In addition to whatever swell starts to arrive while Matthew is cruising the Bahamas, we’re supposed to have another little northeast blow here late week mixing with the first forerunners of groundswell. Again, this will all be onshore until we see what Matthew does.

AND BACK TO MATT: This is going to be a very interesting week. Please keep an eye on things as they progress. This is the time to start becoming aware and to think about preparations. Be safe.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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