Liquid Lines

Why the Sharpie Was So Silly and Could Have Been Serious

Plenty of swell but not the best conditions and a time for vigilance on the beachfront
By JON COEN | Sep 18, 2019
Photo by: Paul Boardman Shawn Casey grabbed a little backside barrel in Monday morning’s clean conditions, the only offshore wind we saw this week.

There was a time that things like hurricanes didn’t split up the American people. If you recall, we all get along pretty well after storms wallop us. But that’s not the case these days.

Look, I am very aware that this is America in 2019. You can be a huge proponent of fiscal and personal responsibility, but because you bring a canvas bag to ShopRite, 64.7 percent of Ocean County would write you off as a snowflake. The last thing they want to hear is criticism of the self-proclaimed “chosen one” president in all his orange glowing greatness. And there are plenty of surfers in his rabid fan base.

Half of us are entrenched on one side sipping drinks through paper straws and trying to keep kids from getting mowed down with machine guns. The other half of us are dug in, insisting climate change isn’t real as the rising ocean starts to fill the foxhole.

When it comes to certain matters, I certainly have an opinion about current leadership. Name calling with crazy dictators, reckless behavior with global markets, building walls instead of relationships and insulting military and intelligence personnel don’t seem like good ideas to me. But these are not areas that I have studied in depth. No one is asking my views on foreign policy.

I have, however, studied hurricanes. My head is full of useless information about tropical formation, hurricane history, spaghetti models and swell period. Like most surfers, I’ve got a cereal box meteorological degree, and I’m not afraid to use it. There’s always the chance it could deliver 6- to 8-foot screaming barrels (which Dorian did). Additionally, everyone around here is well versed in the details of a landfalling hurricane. In addition to our Sandy-sanded community, I’ve been in the Outer Banks and Puerto Rico directly after storms and seen exactly what the hell they can do. Many of us have.

So when a former reality TV star who has suggested that we drop a nuclear bomb to stop a hurricane starts disseminating faulty information about the storm path of the second most powerful Atlantic storm to ever make landfall, somebody has to address it.

Well, actually, it was addressed in detail, following the general news cycle of the past three years, which goes something like this:

• Trump says/tweets something insane.

• The media calls attention to it, scrambling for ratings.

• His staff says he didn’t say it or it was taken out of context.

• Trump undermines them and says, “Oh, I said it and I meant it, and everyone else is wrong. Fake news.”

• Fox News defends it, declaring that anyone who disagrees hates our country.

• Trump’s loyal supporters bow to his altar of inaccuracy.

And then we try to argue logic to no avail for three days until he does or says something else insane. Future history writers can borrow that if there are still books in a few years from now.

But like I said, I have written about these storms for 20 years, and before that, I was glued to Dr. John Hope of The Weather Channel on every tropical detail.

This latest cycle is relevant to our little oceanic hamlets, so let’s break down what actually happened.

On Sep. 1, with Dorian rapidly intensifying, Trump tweeted, “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5.”

Now on that initial communication, I actually can’t fault the guy. He is warning people to start preparing. Everything is spelled correctly. Full sentences. He didn’t insult the governor of Alabama.

The problem was that when he tweeted that, the forecast had changed to have Dorian curving up north and staying on the East Coast. While he had the intensity right, he was going off a forecast track from about Aug. 28 that showed Dorian cutting right across Florida and smashing into the Gulf states.

And at that point, I would still defend the guy. I mean, I have been anti-Trump since I was 5 years old and he made those egotistical commercials starring himself jetting around Manhattan to his different real estate projects. But at that point, it was an honest mistake.

Let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt that he was busy doing something presidential, like cutting the recreation budget for the lock-ups that Latin American asylum-seeking children are being kept in. He’s not waiting to see if the Potomac River is going to be overhead and firing like we are. He was telling citizens in an area that would not be affected to start preparing. Fair enough. However, we know what it’s like to prepare for a hurricane that doesn’t hit. Better to be safe than sorry, but it disrupts life, commerce and everything else.

And Alabama loves them some Trump. (63 percent approval rating, highest in the country, tied with West Virginia.) So even if the skies were blue, seas were flat and birds were singing, they would say they were in a hurricane.

Almost immediately, the National Weather Service out of Birmingham tweeted, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

But here’s the thing. We didn’t even need to hear an admission that Trump was wrong. At that point, it would have been easy for the White House to simply say, “The forecasted track has changed since that tweet. The southeast coast needs to prepare. Let’s move on.”

Easy. Just gloss it over in typical political way. That would have been responsible while saving face.

But just as he loves to do, the president insisted he was right and people who have degrees were wrong.

Trump will always challenge proven science. Granted, global warming and sea level rise are long-term problems. A hurricane is an immediate threat (although you can argue related to climate change). With this particular hurricane, 1,300 human beings are still missing in the Bahamas weeks later. We’re not talking about insurance adjusters or bands playing fundraisers in Eleuthra. Those people can’t be found.

Is the media making too big a deal of this? No.

When you have 64.3 million followers, you can’t tweet stuff that isn’t true. Lives are at stake.

He tweeted about it nine more times. Then, in rebuttal mode on Sept. 5, he showed up in the Oval Office with a poster-sized National Weather Service Dorian Forecast Map from Aug. 29 to prove his point. Mind you, as he shows off the map, there is a hurricane just off the Florida/Georgia border moving north that just intensified back to a major Cat 3. That’s something a president might want to give his full attention to, but there was no way he was letting this die.

The map shows the week-old, outdated track of Dorian, which has all of Florida in the cone and at that projection, Alabama could have been in the crosshairs.

And then on the map, someone famously doctored the white forecast cone, circling Alabama … in black. It was custom made for late-night talk show hosts. This administration is so far past the point of truth and accuracy, and that’s scary. Because this was a terrifying and dangerous storm, and there will be more terrifying dangerous storms.

Not everyone follows the weather enough to know when to prepare. I personally knew people who didn’t want to come to LBI last weekend for fear of “the storm.” I had to explain that Dorian would be hundreds of miles out to sea. Saturday and Sunday were both perfect-10 summer days.

When asked about the Sharpie art at a press conference, Trump quickly answered, “I don’t know. I don’t know,” and took the next question.

I can say this. If there are Sharpie marks on my kitchen wall and I ask my 7-year-old if he wrote on the walls, “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. He’s in trouble.

It would seem a miracle for the other two fifths of America to come around and see how ridiculous that is. But if not, America is in much bigger trouble.

SURF STUFF: This was not the greatest weekend of surf, simply because we had so much surf and it never really came together. I mean, compared to last weekend, this was more Local Bummer than Local Summer. But there was some energy, to be sure.

We had north/northeast winds that started blowing on Friday. In retrospect, that may have been the time to surf. The wind came more easterly and then south on Saturday for junky conditions. A front passed through Saturday night with rain and some thunderstorms, leaving mostly clean conditions. But we’re in the time of year now that we really need offshore winds to groom things out. After the rain squall, the wind died, but with the swell angle and a lack of west wind, it was mostly disorganized without much of a pocket. There were waves, and it was rideable with some decent ones. Obviously there were times and spots that were better, but overall, it was not fantastic. And then the wind came south, although there were a few moments on Sunday night.

Frankly, the best conditions I saw were Monday morning, shortly after sunrise when the wind was actually, legitimately, fully offshore for the first time since the Hurricane Dorian swell.

PLEASE BE CAREFUL: There were two very scary situations in the water on Sunday where swimmers got into serious trouble.

A surfer attempted to rescue a drowning swimmer in Haven Beach on Sunday. Long Beach Township police, Beach Haven First Aid and Beach Haven Volunteer Fire Co. all responded, but the victim sadly, did not make it.

I also got a report that several surfers came to the aid of one male victim in Holgate and got him to shore. That was at an unguarded beach.

Mary Frack was down there surfing at the time. She has been surfing LBI since the 1970s and helped to get the victim to the beach. Apparently, he was not an experienced surfer and had borrowed someone’s board.

“He was about dead when he got to the beach. This guy dragged him in by the arm, and he was purple and lifeless,” said Frack.

She administered chest compressions while the other rescuer did mouth-to-mouth.

“I didn’t think he was going to make it,” she admitted, “but he spit up so much water, and he came back to life.”

When the EMTs arrived, the man had regained consciousness. Interestingly, I called the Long Beach Township Beach Patrol, and they told me emphatically that they had not heard a thing about any incidents. The other beach patrols are not even made aware when there’s a drowning.

This is a super dangerous time of year as the water is still warm and the beach patrols are not fully staffed. The result is that a lot of people want to swim. But the ocean is so much more dynamic in September. Between the more-active weather patterns and groundswell from hurricanes, it’s much easier to get pulled off the sandbar, held under or caught in a rip.

We can’t say this enough. The SandPaper has compiled a list of guarded beaches for the offseason. Always check that before you swim.

And surfers, this is the time of year we need to be vigilant. Keep an eye on swimmers if there are no guards on duty. Good work to Mary Frack and all those who were involved in saving a life.

ALL HAPPENING: Jetty chose to not hold its 13th annual Clam Jam last weekend. There were waves, and it certainly would have been nice to get a Jam in with warm water and air temps, but it wasn’t mean to be. Saturday was wrecked by south winds. Sunday’s winds wound up never going offshore, and the early rain would have been kind of miserable. There might have been some moments for the Jam, but with thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday morning, they couldn’t take the risk.

So now everyone will look to this week for the Clam Jam. It’s too early to say exactly what the ocean is going to give us, but at press time, it does seem Hurricane Humberto will be in our window, sending back long-period swell. Keep tuned to Jetty’s website and social media for developments. If the Clam Jam doesn’t run this weekend, the next possible date would be Oct. 12 or 13.

If the Clam Jam doesn’t go off this Saturday (or if you’re just a spectator and looking to do both), check out the Makers Festival at Manahawkin Lake Park. Now in its fifth year, this free festival has become one of the biggest things to happen in the area all year. The focus, as usual, is on handmade culture with original music and fantastic food. I also feel like they’ve simply got a great vibe at this event for all ages.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, Alliance for a Living Ocean will host the Barnegat Light Beach & Bay Clean Up from 9 a.m. to 12:30 pm. The meeting point will be West Sixth Street and Bayview Avenue (look for the ALO tent). ALO will supply buckets and data cards. You can also bring your own bucket. Just know that beach cleanups are phasing out plastic bags, as plastics are the root of the problem.

If you’re planning ahead, Chowderfest Weekend is Oct. 4 and 5 and the LBI Fly International Kite Fest is Oct. 11 to 13. The LBI 18 Mile Commemorative Run is Oct. 13..

If you think summer flew by, this Local Summer thing is going in the blink of an eye. Make your plans to enjoy every last warm water swell and beach day.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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