The SandPaper

November Wave and Weather Pleasantries Amid Shifting of Seasons

Liquid Lines

Brian Farias drives through the recent swell. (Photo by Mike Ryan)

“Last week felt like those days you longed for in high school, whether you were cutting class or waiting for the bell to ring so you could get to the beach. The water is warmer right now than it was in July. I’m a happy camper and grateful for all current circumstances.”

That’s how my friend Torr Cohen wrapped up the last run of swell, and he put it perfectly. I think when that six-day nor’easter hit over a month ago, most of us, including Torr and myself, feared it would bring an abrupt halt to our sacred Local Summer. Little did we know we’d be enjoying it in November.

And he’s right about the ocean temps. Last weekend, the surf temps crept back up to the low 60s, considerably warmer than those upwelling events we had all summer. We were also warmer on the first weekend of November than we were the first weekend of October. Folks were enjoying a full beach day on Monday here, with temps in the mid-70s.

To put it plainly, this has just been as good a run of waves and weather as we get in New Jersey.

“We’ve had plenty of swell the past few months, but it seems like nothing has fully come together for our sandbars. It has left us constantly chasing the dragon, led on by paid surf forecasting websites. The tides have changed figuratively, and came into a good run of swell that hopefully stays with us. There have been plenty of surprise sessions if you just find the window with cooperating wind patterns.”

Throw in the changing foliage and New Jersey can stack up to anywhere in the world right now. Though the weather and waves have both played a sweet tune this month, they are somewhat separate entities. We all know swells can arrive in the most bitter of winter patterns and the most tropical of summer heat. But pleasant weather is its own thing.

While there is plenty of concern to be had for climate change, and most of it a threat to our sandbar livin’, at least this autumn aspect of it is pleasant. I’m specifically talking about the weather changing to what we have experienced in the calendar year. Because while politics seems to color perspectives on the Earth’s climate, we can all agree the seasons seem to have shifted.

This is apparent in anecdotal evidence, and if you’re over the age of 30, you have probably noticed each season hangs on a bit longer than it used to. My memory on this goes back only to the ’80s, but from what I recall, summer ended in September. You’d wear a scratchy thermal shirt under your Halloween costume. By the time you were trimming your tree, winter was fully present and bit down until St. Patrick’s Day. But April used to be a decent month. Memorial Day felt like summer. And by Labor Day, autumn cold fronts brought chilly nights.

Each succeeding year seems to see the transitions come later and later. These days, we find ourselves surfing in trunks into October and then driving through lush green leaves, fishing right through the holidays and wearing flip-flops to Christmas dinner. Winter doesn’t take hold until after New Year’s, and the January thaw comes around the time guys are standing all confused in the greeting card aisle on the afternoon of Feb. 14.

The ocean still gets frigid in February (a couple recent winters saw some dips to 29). March is historically the windiest month, but each year seems to get meaner and meaner. Winter stretches until April, which usually sees a day or two of snow flurries. It then eases and comes back three or four times into May. The wetland marshes are slower to turn green. Summer doesn’t really kick off until you’re standing around the BBQ on July 4.

Now all of this is what we’ve simply observed. But if you’ve noticed the same, science backs your claims. Three separate universities, including Harvard, took part in a study of weather from the past 100 years that concluded in 2007. They found the hottest day of the summer now falls two days after it did in 1950. According to the study, the peak of winter cold has been recorded a few days after it once was. (This one doesn’t have the full consensus. Other scientists are noticing earlier spring thaws in some parts of the world. While that’s primarily a concern for areas that rely on a snow season, the pattern has been the opposite in our part of the world.)

And while you’re noticing changes, so are scientists in observations of animal migration and plant cycles. So, you’re not imagining it.

But right now, we’ll take it, especially with temps near 60 coming again late week.

SO MUCH SURF: The surf we enjoyed last week was courtesy of an extra tropical low-pressure system that spent a lot of time hanging out in the North Atlantic, far enough away to not affect our local winds and weather, but close enough to send swell for days. While it’s not impossible to get days of extended swell (we had two nor’easters in the last eight months that gave us giant swell for a week), rarely are there long runs of no wind.

“It really was just a beautiful consistent run of quality surf with amazing weather and light winds. A couple of sessions were about as good as it gets here, at 4- to 5-foot,” Brian Farias told me. “I got another glassy session Sunday afternoon with a friend, wearing a 3/2 and no boots. There was an older guy bodysurfing in shorts!”

The run started early in the week, peaking on Tuesday with overhead tubes, and ran right to the weekend. Even by Saturday and Sunday, there was a mixed bag of swell and light onshore winds. The South End has been almost mechanical, with surfers of all ages getting in on the autumn action. Our sand is in decent shape both north and south. This is the kind of fall we dream about.

The water temperature has been a bonus, especially after the frigid summer. My friend Andy Carreño is some 575 days into a daily surf streak. He makes notes of the waves and water temp each morning.

“On July 4, the temp at sunrise was 68 and the ocean was 57,” he told me this week, “On Nov. 6, the temp at sunrise was 64 and the ocean was 61. I love fall.”

Early this week provided a smaller pulse but even more clean swell for those looking to get in the water during the beautiful weather.

TROPICS: We had a feeling  hurricane season 2022 wasn’t over, and that seems to be holding true. The ocean temps near the equator are abnormally warm for November. Two features got our meteorological attention over the weekend, and as The SandPaper reaches you on Wednesday, Subtropical Storm Nicole could be approaching Florida.

The second feature, well east of Bermuda, could add something to the midweek mix with some other swell in the water. This one will, fortunately, not impact our weather. Lots happening for so late in the season.

While intense tropical storms or hurricanes are not uncommon in November, the way Nicole materialized was very rare. It started as an ocean low, one that had likely been contributing to our run of surf, that moved south and became more tropical in nature. While a messy strike to Florida (as possibly a hurricane)  seems probable with significant storm surge during some pretty high tides, it’s hard to say where the storm will head from there.

The reason for the odd left turn into Florida is a blocking high-pressure system in the North Atlantic, keeping the storm from pushing up and out to sea. As problematic as low pressure can be, the real damage comes when they are steered west or are forced to stay in one place by strong high pressure. We saw that with nor’easters in both May and October.

We will see some south swell arriving soon from Nicole and then additional local swell when she gets closer this weekend. Models show it very close to the southeast coast after landfall. This is a very wide storm, and it’s entirely possible we will see some effects. It will be worth watching for some potentially good surf. A nice scenario for New Jersey would be a fast-moving system that backdoors us. A cold front will be approaching from the west at about the same time. Fingers crossed for offshore winds after it all passes.

LA NIÑA ON REPEAT: There’s nothing as frustrating as the wind coming onshore when there was supposed to be clean surf. And there’s nothing as rewarding as getting a perfect night on the water when the forecast called for snot. Weather, wind and wave forecasts are all prone to a certain degree of wrongness, so long-term forecasts are kind of a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing.

But there are certain patterns and signals we can look for, like El Niño and La Niña. At the root of these alter ego phenomena is the water temp off the west coast of South America (warmer water means El Niño, cooler means La Niña). This sets off a cause-and-effect of weather events around the globe. What Chilean fishermen experience affects a ski lift operator in the Alps. Some years there is no definitive signal. Other years it’s strong in one direction. The Pacific Ocean can roar during an El Niño winter. But the following summer, those same signals tend to shear apart hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Now science tells us we’re about to have our third La Niña year in a row. Again, I take these with a grain of salt. Hell, I take them with the whole salt shaker. La Niña is supposed to mean a warmer/wetter winter for the Mid-Atlantic. This year, we have about a one in three chance of a warmer winter. This would seem more of interest to the southwest and southeast U.S., which have a higher chance of a warmer than average winter, which sounds a lot like a “hot” season for them.

On average, storms tracking across the U.S. tend to stay to our north during a La Niña winter. We have less chance of the jet stream lazily falling far south, allowing that cold air mass from the Arctic to blast us. It would tend to mean more low-pressure systems backdooring us for south swells and fewer nor’easters setting up along the Carolinas ready to deliver us all that wintery action. But these are just “trends.” I can’t think of a La Niña winter that didn’t throw us a blizzard. And neither pattern seems to make March and April any more bearable

A surfboard that Pat Harrington had ordered before he passed, but never got to ride, is being auctioned off by Farias, Jetty and the Harrington family. (Photo courtesy Farias Surf & Sport)

THE NOVEMBER HORIZON: All eyes for the weekend will be on subtropical Nicole or whatever she is by then. The temps will drop as she clears out. Maybe get that vest and double-warm hoodie out for early next week. Lows will be just above freezing on Sunday morning.

Farias Surf and Sport, Jetty and the Harrington family are currently raffling off Pat Harrington’s last surfboard. As many of you know, Harrington was a dedicated local surfer who lost a hard fight with cancer in late 2020. In 2021, we all paddled out in his honor. Harrington, of Ship Bottom, supported every local event.

He  had ordered a surfboard through Farias when he was sick, making plans for a dream surf trip with friends once the cancer was in remission. But it was a board he never got to ride. Well, now the 5’9 Lost Diver 2.0 (of course it says PStrong on the stringer) is up for auction. Tickets are one for $5 or five for $20 and can be purchased at Farias in Ship Bottom. The winning ticket will be picked on Dec. 22, and all the money will benefit a scholarship fund and the Southern Regional High School Surf Team, of which Pat was an alumnus. Talk about a worthy cause going into the holidays …

Hard to believe this, but pretty much all the events in the future are of a holiday theme. Yep, even though you still have a sandy beach chair in the back of your car from the recent run of perfect weather, it’s time for sleigh bells and holiday pop-ups. Since pressure to start your holiday shopping started weeks ago, I should remind everyone not to forget your local surf shop when you start your checking off names. Surf outfitters are a foundation of our coastal community, and the way things are changing so quickly, we need to keep them in mind. In addition to core surf goods and apparel, most of our local surf shops are now geared toward all outdoor beach, bay and boat activities, so gift options are numerous.

Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, a long weekend where we tend to have a lot of family and friends around, many of whom look very forward to enjoying beaches, whether surfing or crisp afternoon walks before winter starts to howl. It does tend to be a pretty magical time.

I will have a full list of holiday pop-ups in the next Liquid Lines, as they are announced.

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