The Fish Story

A Storm By Any Other Name; Timing Your Exit From LBI

By JAY MANN | Oct 15, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann ZIGZAG COURSE: In wake of the recent nor’easter tides, Holgate’s beachline became an obstacle course for buggyists.

Surf City, NJ — Well, are we done yet? I’m speaking of post-season events on LBI, even rained-out ones.

We’re getting later and later with “special” weekends. Not that they don’t draw a crowd. We had quite a touristy crew show up for this past holiday weekend. Yes, it was a holiday. How could you forget Columbus Day, when we hail the finding of this majestic land of ours, even though it’s now proven the Vikings were the first Euro-ish explorers to stumble upon North America many years earlier – to be greeted by Native Americans who already knew the “newly discovered” land like the backs of their hands?

As you know, the Columbus weekend’s events ran into a headwind called Mel, more exactly, cyclone Melissa, a storm born of nearly a week of churning low pressure off our coastline. She presented as a respectable nor’easter, though not of any epicness by a long shot, especially in terms of former big blows. In fact, the “blow” part of Mel has been a little overblown. Hereabouts, she didn’t register winds much above 40 mph at peak gustiness. On average, she pushed maybe 25-mph windage. Hell, we deal with winds of that caliber all winter, when including westerly fair-weather gales.

Melissa was yet another in a line of LBI flooding-based weather events. As proof, the Island’s lifeline Boulevard from south Ship Bottom to Beach Haven was totally swamped – officially closed to all traffic on a couple occasions. Well-flooded backyards were commonplace, especially on the mainland side of bay things, which seemingly got the height of daily inundations.

The lingering cyclonic low was also an event ruiner. The long-anticipated three-day Kitefest barely hung on, keeping its head above water via kiter persistence. It still had the wind taken out of its sails, participant-wise. It was an obvious irony that the Kitefest’s oomph was wounded by … wind. Thinking back to Friday, it would have been interesting to see mega-kites aloft during the gale. Factoring in the size of some kites, I picture emergency crews chasing spontaneously airborne kiters down the beach all the way to Holgate. Radio communique: “We lost him at Little Egg Inlet. See if Atlantic City International is picking him up on their radar yet.”

The much-beloved and highly cheered-upon LBI 18 Mile Commemorative Run planned for Sunday was stopped in its unmade tracks due to anticipated Boulevard road flooding, which never materialized. However, neither the involved police departments nor event coordinators could have foreseen the total cessation of road flooding by event time. Per the race’s Facebook site, “This (cancellation) decision was based on a collective agreement between the Race Director and local police chiefs due to safety concerns for all involved.”

Another event that was ready to rock last weekend – with “Food, Beer, Wine, Music, Oysters, Demonstrations” – was a Bayview Park (LBT) happening called the Shellabration. The bivalve-based, fun-for-all gathering raises money for the Oyster Recycling Program. It got shucked over due to the minor problem of the bay possibly covering the venue in thigh-deep bay water. Oysters would have dug it, at least the unshucked ones.

Update: The Shellabration is rescheduled for Saturday, Oct. 19, noon to 6 p.m. Make sure to check it out. While there, get involved with the re-shellfishing of Barnegat Bay.

It’s a bit odd that rain never entered the cancellation picture. The multi-day storm dropped virtually nothing of drought-lessening precip value. The most bothersome wetness came from tide stacking, when each successive high tide climbs on the back of the water still hanging around from the previous high tide. Melissa was a well-stacked storm.

HOW BIG: In rating the backyard flooding from Melissa, a few folks defaulted to a never-ending fascination with SS Sandy, swearing their yards registered the highest waters since Sandy’s benchmark flooding. I’ll gladly wax dramatic by maybe acknowledging Mel pushed bay water to the upper stoops of some Island homes. One fellow made sense when he told me, “Our new raised home had no problems, where our old one (torn down) would have been sweating it.”

Obviously, Melissa was nothing like Sandy in structure, movement or water heights. However, Mel distinctly resembled the 1991 Great Halloween Storm, especially in the way she ratcheted up off the coast. Had there been another storm anywhere in the northwest Atlantic, she surely would have sucked it in. It would then have been Katy plywood the doors.

The Great Halloween Storm, aka the No-Name Storm – and it really had no name right after it happened – was a non-descript nor’easter that went gonzo after absorbing the nearby remnants of Hurricane Grace. After the absorption, the astoundingly souped-up mega storm morphed into something unique, losing all its Grace. It would eventually be immortalized by a nicknaming collaboration between National Weather Service forecaster Robert Case and novelist Sebastian Junger, christening it “The Perfect Storm.” Boy, did that ever stick … ad nauseum.

Not daring to go up against such a popular nickname, the meteorological community would ultimately dub it “Hurricane 12” – which didn’t make a ton of everyday sense since there hadn’t been 11 hurricanes prior to that point. It must have made meteorological sense. Why didn’t the Hurricane Center officially assign it a nice humanesque name? Per authorities, “Although the Perfect Storm later evolved into a hurricane, in which could have been named Henri, the National Hurricane Center left it unnamed due to the heavy damage and media interest in the predecessor extratropical storm.”

SPOOKY … CLOSE TO PERFECTLY AWFUL: The Great Halloween Storm detonated so dramatically just off the coastline from NJ to NE, it began to do the unthinkable: retrograde. To the horror of weather watchers, the monster began moving backwards toward the coast. Such a backsliding went against the planetary power of the Coriolis Effect, which keeps systems in the northern hemisphere flowing west to east. The storm was so wildly powerful it didn’t worry about any effect other than its own.

Had that mega-storm not again changed direction, assuming its logical eastward motion away from land, it would have annihilated the coast from NJ through Nova Scotia. Such a strike would have made future Superstorm Sandy a mere after-mention in weather history. I kid you not. It’s estimated that the swells (including some breaking waves) within the Great Halloween Storm were averaging 60 feet with the likelihood of 80- to 90-footers. That’s huge, even by tsunami standards.

The waves that pounded the Eastern Seaboard from even a distant Perfect Storm did huge New England damage. Hereabouts, the ocean came over the dunes and down to the Boulevard at points on LBI, mainly Harvey Cedars. Folks as far off as Florida fielded 15-foot groundswell waves, which washed across beaches and onto oceanside parking lots. Again, had that monster come ashore …

Many an armchair prognosticator point to this lengthy blow as a sure sign of a seriously stormy fall/winter/summer season coming up. Some of the most respected weather bodies (NWS and such) are saying we’re in for an ass kickin’ storm stint. For forecast cynics and distrusters, such weatherly forebodings likely mean we’re in for a mild, easy-goin’ time of it. For kicks, I’ll anecdotally run with the law-of-averages throwing us a milder winter, though mild can still mean immensely stormy.

I’ll melt the enthusiasm of local snow lovers who have been hearing about coastal whiteness out the kazoo, possibly by as early as December. Again, they’re snowbanking on those long-term predictions. My thawy read: Along the immediate shoreline, we’ll instead see rain, as far west as roughly Chatsworth. Further west, there could be some real blizzardy times. If you’re an Islander who loves snow, the not-far-off Poconos beckon. Don’t be dragging us into the whiteness by power-wishing snow. Who knows, one of you just might have the power to move the weather.

As to more impactful side of winter storms, it will be hard for Island beaches to sidestep a highly erosive stretch … beginning already. As noted, even overall mild winters can pack a wicked wallop from nor’easters. Mild winters can also usher in some unusually wicked south winds, which eat beaches to the nth degree. Places like Beach Haven and Holgate can take no more consumption.

TIMING FLOOD TIDES: The recent high tides fully overwashed over half of the Holgate Wilderness Area at Forsythe. I’m not talking assorted breakthrough points. It was full-scale sea-to-bay washovers. First, 10-foot-plus ocean waves plowed westward and beachward, easily besting what little dune action remains thereabouts. That overwash quickly tag-teamed with later bayside tidal waters that bulldogged eastward and oceanward. Yes, those two high tide players can be different – far different.

The differential between oceanfront and bayside tides really ratchets up the further northward one goes up Barnegat Bay. In fact, by the time Manahawkin Bay (off Ship Bottom and Surf City) is in full high-tide mode, only a few hundred yards away the ocean is well on its way to low tide.

The multi-hour flood tide disparity twixt bay and ocean isn’t always appropriately factored in by unsavvy folks preparing to evacuate – or, at the very least, wanting to head back home before the Boulevard shuts down. Adding to such misreads are the times highlighted on most tide charts. They’re almost always based on oceanfront tide times. At best, tide charts will have an accompanying small-lettered area offering oft confusing add or subtract time adjustments needed to compute bayside tides. It’s well worth deciphering them. I’ll get duly dramatic by saying those bayside tide times are of safe-escape significance.

Note: During storm conditions, tides can rise in an untimely manner, varying greatly from times predicted on the charts. In practical terms: Give yourself tons of extra time when timing storm tides.

FISHING OR WHAT?: It’s time to think serious stripering, if only based on the calendar. Bass have been known to arrive this early. They’ve just as often been known to be absent at this point. I say that in a historic sense after reading rundowns of the earliest striped bass derbies, when “warm water” saw the event go virtually striperless for entire weeks in November. What’s more, that was when the minimum size was, well, small.

When I get some time, I’ll transcribe parts of the 1956 reports from The Beachcomber’s “Long Beach Island Derby News.” Much ink was spent trying to nail down why stripers were running scarce. More energy was seemingly spent arguing over what was wrong with bassing than actually fishing for them. It’s interesting to read many references to boat bassers doing exceptionally well as surfcasters suffered. For more history of the Derby/Classic, check out fishlbi.com.

I did a load of south end plug throwing, to no avail. Not even a bluefish has saluted of late. That doesn’t mean a whole ton since, firstly, look who’s fishing (me) and, secondly, Holgate – once a mecca for amazing fishing – has inexplicably become all but barren of better bass and blues. I have to say that outright, having seen the precipitous hooking decline there … in a mere decade’s time. I’m hanging in there, though, knowing we could get off the snide in a 50-pound flash. But, in the meantime, even I might resort to occasionally adventuring to the north end, maybe Loveladies or possibly even High Bar Harbor.

It seems likely the Island’s front beach has actually been nicely manicured by the recent blow. Post-storm troughs, slews and sluices are forming as the eaten-away beaches recover, as quickly happens after nor’easters.

Despite water temps still in the upper 60s, I’m betting some weigh-worthy bass will show this coming week.

WARNING: Do not land a trophy bass or bluefish and pound yourself for not having entered the 2019 LBI Classic. That has happened on many an occasion. Sign up and play it safe. By the by, the largest un-enterable fish I’ve ever seen was easily 50 pounds – near The Mast in BL. It would have been worth a solid $1,000 – and eligible for a slew of other prizes.

WORTHY RETORT: A couple weeks back I columnized on wildlife in the Holgate refuge, kinda throwing a bone to common creatures versus endangered. I also voiced an understanding of the need to go the extra anti-predation mile to save the “last of” any species. I had hoped to stir the pot a bit. I did get one quite-worthy response but not nearly the reaction I expected from birders. To see the lone counterpoint, check out this week’s “Letters” section. To reread the column online, go to thesandpaper.net and track down my columns.

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