Beach patrols are warning of heavy surf and dangerous rip currents this week as the Jersey Shore begins feeling the impact of a tropical storm hundreds of miles offshore.
Tropical Storm Leslie was more than 500 miles south-southeast of Bermuda on Tuesday afternoon, but deteriorating surf conditions caused by its 65 mph winds prompted the Atlantic City Beach Patrol to suspend all bathing until further notice.
“Even though the hurricane is hundreds of miles out, you feel the impacts up and down the entire coast,” Chief Rod Aluise said.
Atlantic City was already enforcing a knee-deep restriction due to 5- to 6-foot swells and fast-moving currents of water moving off shore at some of the city’s beaches. As of 5 p.m., the storm was becoming better organized about 500 miles south-southeast of Bermuda with the same wind speed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The storm won’t get closer, for sure, but it does pulse the ocean and increase wave intensity,” he said. “And larger waves mean stronger rip currents.”
Making the situation even more dangerous, many lifeguards have returned to school or work following the Labor Day holiday and some smaller beach communities have discontinued patrols entirely.
In Atlantic City, Aluise said his force was reduced by two thirds and that only 11 beaches are being patrolled.
Lee Robertson, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said tropical storm-force winds create long-period swells that can carry strong wave energy far beyond the immediate vicinity of the storm.
“We always tell people to swim on beaches where there’s a lifeguard on duty and to avoid places where rip currents are enhanced, around jetties and piers,” he said.
Leslie isn’t forecasted to make landfall on the mainland United States, but the National Hurricane Center has warned that wind-generated swells could cause life-threatening surf conditions for several days.
Cape May Beach Patrol Captain Harry “Buzz” Mogck said there are warning flags up for all the swimming beaches although high tide had prevented any serious problems from becoming apparent Tuesday afternoon.
“If it gets any worse as the week goes on, we’ll make announcements over the loud speakers and the guards on the beach will make sure (swimmers) know to be careful,” he said.
More than half of the patrol’s lifeguards left after Labor Day weekend, Mogck said. That means just nine beach stands — down from 25 — are being manned as the hurricane season begins in earnest.
“It’s pretty hard this time of year,” he said. “It keeps you on edge and more alert than usual.”
This Sunday is the last day Cape May’s beaches will be guarded, Mogck said, although three guards will be on duty for emergencies through the end of the month.
In Ocean City, where 10 beaches remain open, lifeguards were stressing that bathers need to exercise caution as the storm continues northward.
“You definitely want to swim near a guard and not swim in any unprotected areas,” said Amanda Grau, 21, a beach medic and Upper Township resident. “Also, always have someone around you — you never want to go out by yourself.”
On Tuesday, she said larger waves had attracted a lot of surfers to the beach.
As conditions worsen, Grau said the beach patrol usually meets in the mornings to discuss safety and patrols. They do the same with beachgoers on occasion.
“Any time there’s a lot of rescues going on, the guards will pull everyone in and give them a pow-wow,” she said. “They will inform the patrons of what’s going on and what they need to do to stay safe.”
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