Sussex County Prepares For The Possible ‘Perfect Storm’
Friday, October 26, 2012 • 10:38am
NEWTON, NJ – It could be nothing, or it could be something significant, maybe even what could be classified as “The Perfect Storm”, is the buzz among weather experts about Hurricane Sandy.
“There are a couple of scenarios,” Tony Selimo, a meteorology instructor from Sussex County Community College, told The Alternative Press.
Selimo said there are 36 storm models, but the two main model camps that are the focus are, the “American” model, which brings the storm further north and east and out to sea, and will still haven an impact on us; and, the “Euro” model, which brings the storm inland.
Most are watching the “Euro” model, Selimo said, “Because it has not wavered, it’s a more consistent model.”
And, he added, “It brings the worst scenario.”
If the storm follows the “Euro” model, Selimo said it would bring the center of the storm to the Delaware Bay area by Monday, with the entire storm reaching a width of about 400 miles.
Selimo said a 400-mile span is not uncommon; “The Blizzard of ’96,” which paralyzed the East Coast over a period of two days, and dumped about four feet of snow in some areas, covered that distance.
If Hurricane Sandy follows this specific path, the Sussex County area is expected to face heavy winds and rain, of nor’easter magnitude.
“If it comes on shore, it will bring wind, and rain for several days,” Selimo said.
When mixing with high coastal tides, this could create an issue. And, though hurricanes typically thrive with warmer conditions, Selimo said they could adapt to colder environments, and become nor’easters. This is when a hurricane collides with the 30-degree latitude, and forms an extratropical transition, something more typical in the North Atlantic, and either remains a hurricane, or becomes a regular winter storm.
But it is the mass of cold air from the west in the atmosphere, Selimo said, that is the energy that feeds into the hurricane, and, re-strengthens the nor’easter.
These were the conditions of Hurricane Grace, which in 1991 pummeled the East Coast, after emerging as a mid-level low pressure that formed near Bermuda on October 23 of that year. Hurricane Grace was upgraded from a tropical storm warning to a hurricane warning for Bermuda on October 27, then back down to a tropical storm warning on October 29, and finally, a gale warning. Large swells from Hurricane Grace, were the outcome, causing minor and major beach erosion off of the East Coast, from waves reaching up to 15 feet in height. In New England, it emerged as a nor’easter, where an offshore buoy recorded a 101-foot tall wave. The nor’easter later turned to a hurricane off the coast of Nova Scotia, which made landfall in that area.
A small fishing vessel called the “Andrea Gail,” experienced the dangerous weather conditions while heading home from a fishing excursion on October 28, 1991.
“She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,” were the final recorded words of the 34-year-old captain, Frank W. “Billy” Tyne, Jr., and the boat was assumed engulfed by waves that may have reached up to 39 feet tall.
The only pieces left of the vessel found in a later search were the ship’s emergency position-indicating radio beacon, fuel drums, a fuel tank, and some flotsam. The crew was presumed lost at sea near Sable Island, which is southeast of Halifax, Canada.
The “Andrea Gail’s” imagined last days were written about in Sebastian Junger’s book, “The Perfect Storm,” which later became a movie starring, George Clooney, and Mark Wahlberg.
“We haven’t had a system like this move this far down,” said Selimo.
He said if the hurricane speeds, and misses the air mass, the effects would be less, as would they for Sussex County residents, if the storm ends up forming over New England.
“I have to be cautious, these models can overdo the strength,” said Selimo.
Selimo classified the storm as “all on paper right now,” and meteorologists would know best what is expected Saturday night into Sunday.
“We will have a better idea as we follow the storm long. Because it’s evolving, it’s ‘game time decision,’” Selimo said.
“People should always be prepared for the worst,” said Selimo, and suggested residents look to weather.com (The Weather Channel’s website), and noaa.gov (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for preparedness information.
Another local source is Weather Works, based in Hackettstown, N.J., where Selimo is one of the meteorologists. Click here for the company's website. He will also be providing forecasts on WSUS 102.3, and WNNJ 103.7.
Depending on the wind strength, Selimo said, would determine the potential damage in Sussex County.
Hurricane Irene, which ripped through New Jersey, and Sussex County beginning on August 28, 2011, generated winds in the area between 47 to 57 miles per hour.
Selimo said winds for this upcoming storm could be as strong as 50 to 60 miles per hour, and, if tropical storm strength, up to 70 or 72 miles per hour.
Selimo said Sussex County has experienced “a lot of leaf drop,” a disadvantage during Hurricane Irene because leaves were still on the trees, which, caused many trees to come down, along with utility poles. Since leaf drop has already occurred, the trees can better handle the winds, he said.
“The leaves are 60 percent defoliated, that’s a saving grace,” Selimo said.
However, in areas east of Sussex County, Selimo said the leaves are not as defoliated, and the soils more sandy than in Sussex County, in turn, resulting in more potential damage.
“My big concern is the coastline,” Selimo said.
He said damages from 50, 60, and 70 mile per hour winds, for a prolonged period, at the shoreline, could result in major damage.
Selimo cited nor’easters in 1962, and 1992, which caused major damage in New Jersey.
The 1962 nor’easter, also known as the “Ash Wednesday Storm,” devastated Long Beach Island, and destroyed many Jersey Shore towns, flattening about 45,000 buildings over a 72-hour period, due to a low pressure that collided with the spring tide.
The 1992 nor’easter resulted in winds at 90 miles per hour in Atlantic City, and Wildwood Crest, N.J., and the tide, which reached 8.8 feet above mean low water, almost reached the record of 9.0 feet from the 1944 hurricane, and, tied with Hurricane Gloria of 1985.
In Sussex County, some groups are already preparing for the severe possibilities.
Andover Regional School District posted on their Facebook Page this morning, “Due to the impending severe weather next week, the 1st Grade trip to Heaven Hills Farm is postponed until further notice.”
Vernon Township Police Department posted a message from Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative on their Facebook Page, A message from Sussex Rural Electric: Hurricane Sandy is forecast to impact New Jersey sometime late Monday or early Tuesday although this is subject to change. Your cooperative is implementing its disaster plan today in anticipation of extensive damage and extended outages, perhaps days in length. You need to know that our crews will not be working during the peak of the storm for their safety. High winds, heavy rains and falling trees make work in these times very dangerous. We have contacted other utilities and our tree trimming contractor to provide additional crews and have them onsite ready to work as soon as it is safe. Since there is the real potential for multi-day outages, we recommend our members make their own preparations. A detailed list of recommendations is available on our home page at www.sussexrec.com. Of particular importance are the following: If you need an uninterrupted electric supply for medical reasons, you need to make arrangements to provide for that need. No utility can guarantee uninterrupted power or priority restoration following the storm. Report your outage using our toll free number to speed our restoration efforts. That number is 877.504.6463. Calls to this number feed our outage management system directly while calls to our local number do not. After reporting your outage, please be patient. It will take time for us to develop restoration plans and we will not be able to provide expected restoration times. Please leave our lines free for people to report emergencies and new outages. Treat all downed lines as if they are energized and stay well clear. Do not make any attempt to move branches or debris from lines. If a downed line is presenting a safety hazard, please contact 911 immediately. Following the storm, we will provide updates in the following ways: Via this e-mail blast at regular intervals. Via Twitter.Via our home page.Our media allies monitor one or more of these sources and provide updates on radio and television. We want our members to know that we are taking every step to minimize the length of time power is out. Please be sure to prepare for the safety of your family and your property. And please, report your outage using 877.504.6463."
Ken Teets, Emergency Management Coordinator for the Town of Newton’s Office of Emergency Management, said, “Were just preparing for the worst case.”
The town’s office of emergency management met already with the Town of Newton Town Manager, Thomas S. Russo, Jr., and began coordinating already with town departments. Teets said the town’s road department has begun cleaning storm drains, has extra sand bags on hand if ready, the water and sewer department is readying pumps, the fire department had portable pumps and hoses on hand, and, the town has generators standing by in order to remain in contact with local businesses, in case they are in need of business supplies.
"We are trying to educate the public through the Town of Newton website," Teets added.
Click here for information the town has posted on its home page.
Teets said he and other emergency management coordinators from municipalities throughout the county will meet with the county’s Office of Emergency Management tomorrow for a briefing.
“We’re ready now, and we’re waiting for the state, and the storm,” Teets concluded.
The Alternative Press will continue to follow this story as it develops.