A Love Letter to the Weather, Non-Stop Swell, El Niño and a New Campaign for the Carolinas

Not Sure What to Make of Nice Weather and Waves
By JON COEN | Oct 03, 2018
Photo by: LJ Hepp Even with all the groundswell in the water, the highlight of last week for most was Friday night’s windswell. Chris Huch, short-period enjoyment.

Dear Weather,

This weekend was not hot.

It was not cold.

There were no gale force winds. There were no land falling superstorms, nor blizzards. There was no Polar Vortex nor a heat wave. There were no tornado warnings in Manahawkin or meteotsunamis breaking across the rocks in Barnegat Light. Long Beach Township didn’t have to redirect any traffic.

There was no nor’easter, or sou’easter. There was no coastal flooding, no tidal flooding, no nuisance flooding, nor flash flooding. There was no State of Emergency at Chowderfest.

There was no rain. There was no snow accumulation. There was no humidity.

We did not need any Carhartt lifer suits, Patagonia socks, Grunden’s slickers, Billabong 5-mils, XTRATuf boots or Burton jackets.

… If you could do that a little more often, we would really appreciate it.

Sincerely,

The good people of New Jersey.

We finally got it. We finally got two nice days back-to-back in the month of September. After a record -breaking cold winter and frigid wet spring that gave way to a humid and rainy summer, we were all ready for some of that September magic, but the coveted ninth month was a dreary disappointment in every way. In the middle of the month I wrote that Local Summer was a Local Bummer. But apparently we paid our penance to the weather deities and we scored for a change. Whether you were posted up on the beach, watching great bands and talented surfers up on the Asbury Park waterfront, chilling on your boat or sucking down beer and chowder in Beach Haven, it was a weekend for the books. We earned it.

SO MUCH SURF: As much whining as I have done about the waves in Liquid Lines the past five weeks, there has been no shortage of waves. But between bad setups, bad winds and bad closeouts, it’s been mostly unrideable.

Well, the stretch of surf has continued, and I am happy to report that our luck has finally turned. I know the headline this week has to be the groundswell from Subtropical Storm/Subtropical Depression/Post-Tropical Cyclone/Tropical Storm Leslie. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just call her Leslie. But in my opinion, Leslie was not the best wavemaker we had this week.

Throughout the end of last week, we had a myriad of junk swell. There were some northeast and some southeast winds Wednesday and Thursday that went light and variable on Friday. But Friday evening did something we haven’t seen the surf do in a very long time – the wind went offshore, and the waves were peaky. It was only stomach to shoulder high, but the combination of swells was forming little teepees. After so many weeks of mush and onshore, the drops were fast and the faces were clean. I don’t know about you, but I will take windswell any day.

I got on it at dead low, which was around 5 p.m., and the guys in the water said it had been fun right through the outgoing. The incoming provided a little more push and – dare I say this? – there was an occasional barrel. The lighting from the passing front at sunset was the perfect end to a really fun session.

Saturday morning was chilly, and the pre-dawn surf check revealed a completely different type of swell. Instead of those wedging peaks, there were long lines coming from Leslie, with perhaps a bit of help from Tropical Storm Kirk.

As I have written many times in this column, long-period groundswells of this nature don’t really work out for LBI. When we get up into that 11- and 12-second period (I believe there were even some 17-second swell readings this weekend), our breaks close out. Yes, there are spots that work on the south end, no doubt. But places with points, rocks and reefs can do a lot more with this swell than our straight coastline.

That said, while Saturday and Sunday were both shutting down at a lot of breaks, it certainly wasn’t a worst-case scenario. The south end was good both mornings with running lines, a bittersweet reminder that this could be the last tropical season for many of the breaks in Holgate as we wait to see what becomes of the new terminal groin. (I’m hearing possibly a temporary replacement of the Wooden of similar size to current structure.)

But the rest of the Island really had some fantastic waves, considering the swell period. There were some big tidal swings, and groundswells by nature are susceptible to that, pulsing on the incoming and waning on the outgoing. It wasn’t a huge swell, and also, the long distance between LBI and the storm means inconsistent waves. But when it came through, there were some really good ones. At high tide, the swell would push closer to the beach and offered up some bowls right to the beach.

Sunday was mostly similar to Saturday. Both days, the wind came onshore. The forecasts called for offshores all day Saturday and light onshore on Sunday, neither of which came to fruition. Guess we can’t get days in the 80s and expect the wind to stay offshore. But there was plenty of time when the wind was west or light enough to surf.

Monday morning saw a continuation to the swell, but the winds were southwest from the start, which is basically the devil wind here. Tuesday blew moderately hard south. What we’re hoping for is that we get some windswell mixing in and something of a combo on Wednesday when the winds go offshore following the front.

It does seem Leslie is intent to stick around as a hurricane. In fact, aside from making a small loop and slow drift north, she will be mostly in the same spot some 300 miles off the East Coast. She is not an intense storm, but she does cover a lot of open ocean and will still be in our swell window through this weekend, which is fairly uncommon for us. It will be interesting to see how things play out.

I might as well point out that the ocean is still very warm. I think it actually crept back above 70 with some of those warm, light-wind days we had. Now that evening temps are dipping down into the high 50s, the ocean will start a slow descent, but expect to enjoy water in the mid- to high 60s a bit longer.

El NIÑO AND ITS IMPLICATIONS: You may remember a few years ago that El Niño was a huge topic of conversation. Well, El Niño is back… but not as strong. Or it might be back, we think …well, we just don’t really know.

The science of long-term weather forecasting is still a young one. But we have been hearing whispers about an El Niño phase settling in for the winter of 2018-19. The short version is this: Every few years, a giant pocket of warm water develops in the Pacific near the coast of Ecuador. Now, normally the warmest water in the Atlantic is in the Philippines Sea, so when this warm water transfers eastward, it can set off events that change the weather around the world.

The name is Latin and means “The Christ Child,” because traditional South American fishermen would make note of the phenomenon around Christmas. It’s a good name because when giant swells reach Hawaii from the North Pacific or when there are crazy flash floods in Peru, you can collectively hear folks say, “Christ, child!”

There’s a tremendous amount of evaporation associated in this area when El Niño sets in. And the next thing you know, rainfall amounts change everywhere else. Some of the common observations have been drier weather in Central America and part of the Caribbean, and wetter weather in the southern U.S. states. It means different areas in the western U.S. get the bulk of the snowfall.

We start to feel the effects of El Niño on the East Coast in the summer because of a lack of effects. Generally, El Niño means winds blowing on the equator don’t die, as they would in a normal year, from August to October. It’s when these winds relent that tropical storms form more easily. So an El Niño year tends to have more wind shear, which inhibits storm development. That equates to less tropical swell and less chance of getting whomped by a hurricane.

For us, the effects are usually a warmer, wetter winter. Now that’s not to say we won’t get some colder weather, but when you look at the winter as a whole, it will likely look very erratic. El Niño seasons tend to have a lot of storm activity and moisture, so it does feel like we get more waves overall. The spring in particular tends to be wetter, which could mean a series of south swells. Again, we can’t say this will result in more waves. The wind might go offshore at 5 p.m. for every one of them, rendering the waves flat by morning.

This year was setting up just like that until the tropics went absolutely bonkers overnight at the end of August. With any long-term phase like this, there are always variations. There is strong evidence to support that climate change is generally making these events even more erratic. (I have to imagine that a changing climate makes studying these things far more difficult.)

Anyway, the World Meteorological Organization is calling for a 70 percent chance of the phase developing this winter. And that’s even more confusing because we have no real baseline for El Niño, so we know only there is a better than 50 percent chance it will develop, but we don’t know how strong it will get.

El Confuso.

SENDING GOOD VIBES SOUTH: If you can think back to 2012 when we got hit with the storm that forever altered the history of our community, Jetty came up with that Unite+Rebuild T-shirt and campaign that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for folks around here. That led to the formation of the Jetty Rock Foundation, and we can’t even list the programs, families and schools that have benefited. Last week, as it was closing in on close to $1 million raised, Jetty decided to get back to some roots, launching a Unite+Rebuild campaign in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

Clearly the national media has gone to covering the hyper-fast news cycle in Washington, leaving many in the Carolinas forgotten victims.

Obviously, East Coasters look out for one another. Jetty now sells to over 180 retail locations, many of which are in the Carolinas. There’s a pretty strong connection. The company has gotten some good information from the surf shops and reps of areas that really need help. Jetty has put together a collection of button-downs and flannels of which it will donate $5 to the campaign for each sold. In addition, it’s printing a specific Carolinas Unite+Rebuild T-shirt for $29.95, the proceeds of which go entirely to the campaign.

ON YOUR RADAR: Speaking of Jetty, it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for the Clam Jam this weekend. With Hurricane Leslie predicted to be camping out in the Atlantic, we should still have waves locally. It’s too early to get an accurate wind prediction, but if I had to guess, I would say Sunday could have better conditions.

This Saturday is the Long Beach Township Oyster Shellebration at Bayview Park. Early models show pretty nice weather. And if there’s an east wind, it might not be the worst thing in the world to get some paddling in at Bayview Park while you’re there. It will run from noon to 6 p.m., featuring oyster shucking, beer, wine, cider and local oyster farmers. I can see this being a big deal going forward as oysters are the talk of the table and their impact on the local environment, economy and community is very real.

This weekend is also the LBI FLY International Kite Festival when the skies above LBI will be full of colorful flags. It really is something to behold.

And somehow, the weather looks good again. Two in a row. Can you imagine?

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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