Posted on October 16, 2023
Ten-foot vertical drops and heaps of sand redistributed on the beach.
Rough surf with waves that rose between 6 to 10 feet.
And off the coast of the Jersey Shore, buoys forced to bob and weave against winds that surpassed 50 miles per hour.
Those were some of the conditions brought on by Tropical Storm Ophelia, which made landfall in southern North Carolina and later weakened to a tropical depression by the time its remnants lashed New Jersey at the end of September, according to an analysis by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Coastal Engineering.
At the Jersey Shore, the storm produced dangerous rip currents and for seven beaches “noteworthy” coastal erosion between Sept. 25 and Sept. 27, according to the state’s outlook. At the time of the report, that included North Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Strathmere, Holgate, Beach Haven, Harvey Cedars and Ortley Beach.
That challenge, he highlighted, is only expected to worsen with human-caused climate change expected to fuel more intense and recurring storms.
“It’s the reason why the state and federal policies are in place,” Rosenello said. “To fund and build the shore protection measures.”
Amid Ophelia, North Wildwood’s beaches saw some of the heavier impacts between 13th and 16th Avenues, with several areas closed, according to the report.
Rosenello said construction on a much-needed bulkhead to protect North Wildwood’s beach patrol headquarters was completed. He said Thursday he is considering asking the state for additional emergency authorization for more work in other areas while the city awaits a federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that may not start until 2025.
The beach in Strathmere, located in Upper Township — also a “hot spot” for erosion that saw “major” impacts from the tropical storm, according to the state — reported vertical dune scarps as steep as 10 feet.
“Of the 81 reaches typically inspected, 67 had minor beach or dune erosion, 5 had moderate beach or dune erosion, 2 had major beach or dune erosion, and 7 sites had no report at the time of publishing this report,” the state said in its summary.
Beach erosion at the Jersey Shore between 4th and 9th avenue in Ortley Beach, N.J. Thursday, May 12, 2022. Toms River officials built the beach back up before Memorial Day 2023, but expect to spend more money to bolster the shore ahead of a federal Army Corps project.Noah K. Murray | for NJ Advance
The “Initial Coastal Storm Survey & Damage Assessment,” from Chris Constantino, a coastal engineering expert with the NJDEP, noted that additional inspections may be needed with the storm expected to continue bringing choppy surf and high wind conditions into the first week of October.
“It is often the division’s experience that much of the material eroded from the ‘dry’ beach area has not been lost, but rather redistributed within the beach profile system, such as creation or enlargement of offshore sand bars,” state officials said. “Our expectation is that much of this material will return to the ‘dry’ beach in time following the storm. This time frame may vary based on several contributing factors such as storm frequency and duration.”
Staff with the state engineering office also explained that proactive dune maintenance and beach replenishment — what some climate groups argue the Garden State has historically relied on too much — have helped protect vast swaths of the shore since last fall.
For Toms River, which took a significant hit during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, officials there say the answer continues to be more sand poured onto the shore.
Following Ophelia, Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill said during a recent council meeting that he observed about three feet of dune lost on the beach there.
“However, remember, we still have a month of hurricane season that doesn’t end until the end of October. As we remember from 2012, Sandy hit at the end of October. So we could still have a couple more storms coming through,” Hill said.
Hill, who will leave office at the end of the year, said at the meeting he recommends the township separate between $300,000 and $500,000 in its next budget for more work to bolster the shore in Ortley Beach.
“Because I don’t know that the Army Corps is going to get there to do the beach replenishment,” he said. “So I think we should be prepared to restore those dunes and 300 to 500 has been about the number for the last three seasons now.”
A drone image of the beach in North Wildwood, NJ, on Oct. 1, 2023, following intense storms and high tides from Tropical Storm Ophelia. Beach erosion has long impacted the coast, local officials say.Photo courtesy of Thomas Cahill