Liquid Lines

Fall Arrived Overnight and With It Came the Swell of the Season

Storm Like Science Fiction, Plus Factual Climate Change and Hurricanes
By JON COEN | Oct 17, 2018
Photo by: Matt Reitinger A combination of the first cold front of the season and the quick shot of Tropical Storm Michael brought swell and fall at the same time last Friday.

Driving over the bridge in the late hours on Thursday night was like something out of “Star Wars.” Whenever conditions get that bad and I drive across the main span, way above the riled-up bay, winds howling at the side of the car, with the lights illuminating the sideways rain, it reminds me of the planet Kamino. You might recall Episode II, where Obi Wan visited to see the clone armies being created. The whole planet was storm-lashed.

That scene has always been fascinating with the look of the entire futuristic city built on stilts above raging oceans. Like, how did they build it? Are there dry areas on the planet? (Maybe there’s something that hits home about it when I think about climate change and LBI’s future.) Someday if I ever meet George Lucas, I’ll ask him all these questions. It always makes me appreciate the engineering of the bridge; it’s kind of sci-fi.

I was on the way home from Philly, one of those great times when you get off the Island for a night. My friend had driven us back over ponding roads among the bizarre flash flood warnings coming from our phones. I was doing the last stretch back home solo, wondering just how bad the flooding would be around the Ship Bottom circle.

I managed to navigate it, with the last few songs the band played still running in my head. The Island was taking the fiercest beating it had in some time. I think we all found leaks in our houses that we didn’t know we had.

A few hours later I was awakened by what sounded like a truck hitting the side of my house. I assume it could have been a microburst, the last furious gasps of the storm as it moved offshore. My street was flooded and the howling wind was already northwest.

These storms – the whipping wind, the downpours and the flooding – are a hassle. But for surfers, the nastier the storm, the better chances for waves. We don’t get much of that from June to September. But make no mistake, fall came overnight last Thursday. And Friday was a fantastic welcome to autumn.

THE SWELL: Last Friday was a one-hit wonder, but it was just the kind of swell we needed after a below-average summer and that dismal September of onshore winds and closed-out groundswell. And the change of seasons could not have happened in a more dramatic fashion. The meteorology involved was our first cold front of the year, meeting up with Tropical Storm Michael, which had crushed the Florida Panhandle last Wednesday. It was a bit of a rare setup, and things came together nicely for LBI.

Most of the forecasts were calling for northerly winds turning more offshore during the day, but shortly after sunrise, it was howling offshore with well-overhead sets.

What was really ideal about this swell and completely opposite of groundswell was that a lot of different places were breaking. There is nothing more frustrating than when everyone is piled onto the only spot that’s peeling. And we definitely need the room to breathe because LBI was again the epicenter of the swell. Everywhere to our north had side-offshore winds, so a lot of our northern Ocean County and Monmouth neighbors came to visit. We also had considerably more size than Atlantic and Cape May County breaks, so even the guys from South Jersey came to LBI. While Harvey Cedars seemed mostly bone crushing and unridable, Surf City seemed to be the epicenter, and the usual south end spots were doing their thing.

The winds created a bit of a chill although the water was still in the high 60s. It was a far different feel than Friday night when it was still 74 degrees at night. The ocean was plenty warm, though. It’s so rare that we have juicy swell when we’re not wearing boots.

While this was certainly fueled by tropical juice, the nature of the swell was more windswell. Michael stayed a tropical storm all the way through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, exiting back into the Atlantic, still as a named storm with formidable winds. Hence the storm period was shorter and the swell peakier. Surf City, which just finished a beachfill project in the middle of the summer, was breaking close to the beach and super powerful with extremely hollow barrels. There were A-frames that stood up so tall that they were just too much, and I think we all took our share of freefalls. There were some broken boards and at least one trip to the ER. But I think we will take those kinds of peaks any day.

The wind definitely had a touch of north in it by mid-morning. I don’t know that it would have made much of a difference, but when its blowing that hard, it put some junk on the face, especially the rights. That mostly got ironed out by mid-day, and the surf was clean until dark with lighter, straight offshore winds. I also think there were southerly and northeast components in that swell, which really help to create those peaks.

Another factor working in our favor is that a lot of sandbars are pretty good right now. Normally by mid-October, the sand moves far offshore, creating thin little bars with a deep hole on the inside. There were a lot of options to escape the crowds.

The tide got pretty drained in the late afternoon, which had probably the worst conditions all day, but the tide rebounded and although smaller, there were still waves until dark. All in all, it was a fantastic day of waves.

The swell was mostly gone by Saturday and fall had clearly been ushered in. Once the morning damp and rain moved through, it wound up being a pretty perfect day, but quite the switch from what we’ve had. Sunday morning was a brisk 49 degrees. Sunday wound up being a gorgeous day as well. Though all the reports were flat, there was a tiny trace of a wave on Sunday, barely a foot, but something for a longboard. And again, sandbars are more conducive to that than they normally are.

BARRELS N BASS: Seems that the first half of October felt a lot like September should have felt. And now we’re skipping right ahead to Halloween weather.

In short, it’s fall. And for most watermen and waterwomen around here, it’s the best time of year. We’re back to getting those stronger storms and heavier swells and the migratory bass start to come through. Between surf and fish, sometimes November is sensory overload. I don’t know that there is anything better than having a slammer day with your friends before a hefty autumn storm, scoring some tubes two days later and getting out of the water to grill striper for dinner. It’s those weeks that Hawaii’s got nothing on LBI.

If you want real info on fishing, read Jay Mann’s The Fish Story column. Trust me. When it comes to angling, you don’t even want my advice on how to feed your goldfish. However, I can tell you about a new contest that combines the best of both worlds.

Presented by Salty Crew, Heritage Surf and Sport, Tackle Direct and Go Pro, the #Barrels N’ Bass contest is all about who can get the biggest barrel and the biggest bass, or the real challenge – whoever can get the biggest of both.

This contest ran last year for the first time, but was a regional thing for South Jersey. This year, it’s opened up to the whole state. So you can get a monster cavern or land a slob anywhere in the Garden State and LBI is known to produce those. But you need a photo of both.

To enter, you have to get a contest sticker at Heritage Surf and Sport (Margate, Ocean City, Sea Isle) or Tackle Direct in Egg Harbor Township. Then you have to get a barrel photo and a bass photo. They’re particular to video and they’re looking for the biggest combination. While there are awards for both the biggest striper and the biggest barrel, if you wind up with some giant Cedars drainer but only a little schoolie bass, you’re not going to win the overall. Same if you land a 48-pounder and you only have a picture of yourself getting a cover up on the inside. Yes, there are prizes for best of each individual, but you’re going to need a solid entry in both to win the grand prize, which is really the point of the whole thing.

Getting the photos will also be a challenge. We’ve all had sick tubes before without any photo proof. Getting the fishing shot is a little easier. All you really need is to have your phone with you on the beach or boat. If no one’s around, they do accept GoPro entries. But that means getting a mouth mount.

Anyway, you can read all about the official rules online, but the photos or vids have to be posted to Instagram and tag #BarrelsNBass with the corresponding sponsors tags.

MICHAEL’S WRATH: As coastal residents who have done our share of not only stressing over spaghetti models but also tearing out wet sheetrock, we pay close attention when storms hit, and Michael was the most powerful storm to have ever hit the Panhandle. The footage coming out of Florida last week was brutal. Accuweather estimated that damage will cost $30 billion. That’s in addition to the $50 billion price tag from Hurricane Flo last month. We’re all feeling for the folks affected.

This was not supposed to be a particularly active season. And if you look at the number of storms, we only had 13. But two of those were massive storms that made landfall in the U.S. The 2018 Accumulated Cyclone Energy, a total of the wind energy of each storm added together for a seasonal total, shows it was no slouch. And it’s not necessarily over.

Each year, we hear more talk about how climate change is affecting the intensity and frequency of storms, and I think this could use some explaining.

Because on the surface, this is a hard one to grasp. The Earth had hurricanes and the U.S. was struck by major storms long before human actions had an effect on the plane’s climate. But you have to look at this through the lens of small changes having big effects in the long term. Scientists are in accord that the earth’s temperature has gone up 1.8 degrees since the Industrial Revolution.

So, what’s the big deal, right. If tomorrow is 1.8 degrees warmer than today, how does that change anything?

It’s small changes over time. Higher temps essentially cook the water at the equator, which is the fuel for hurricanes. They cause more precipitation and can help a storm’s wind speeds. What we’ve seen in recent years is storms that intensify at crazy rates.

So no one is saying that climate change is the specific cause of hurricanes. However, if you have a hurricane over warmer than average water, maybe the winds blow a little harder, maybe the storm surge is greater and maybe it drops more rain than it would have with average water temps. All of those factors contribute to more overall damage from storms. And if you had a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph, it could easily jump up to a hurricane because of climate change.

And yet, Americans choose mostly to ignore this. Thanks to junk science and mostly rural residents, we keep electing folks who deny that these changes are happening. Our president called it a hoax. His position seems to wave in the wind after some of these big storms hit, but he has been consistent that he’s not going to lead any change to our carbon emissions because that would be weak and hurt jobs. It’s funny how trying to reduce risk is considered weak.

Ask the people of Bay County, Fla., how work is going this week.

ROCKING ROCKTOBER: It is that time of year when there aren’t too many events in the surf and water category. We’re pretty much just going to be in full pumpkin mode for the next two weeks.

Make note, however, “Kissed by God,” the new biopic about the life and death of Andy Irons, will play at South End Surf N’ Paddle on Nov. 24, Small Business Saturday.

Last week Jetty toyed with the idea of holding the Clam Jam in Friday’s epic swell. In the end it was decided that it’s too soon in the season to jump to a weekday. The surf certainly would have been epic, but it would have bummed a lot of folks out to miss the contest. So, once again, we are looking for the next swell. Wives, girlfriends and kids will have to just stay on call. You know you love it. Saturday could have a bump, but as of now, it doesn’t look to promising. The way fall has hit so hard, it’s looking to be more of a hot clam chowder kind of Clam Jam this year than cold clams on the half shell.

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