OCEAN CITY — The increasing intensity and incidence of severe weather seemed to be a topic on most people’s minds at Thursday night’s Cape-Atlantic Severe Weather Conference at the Ocean City Music Pier on the Boardwalk.
About 300 people attended and asked a panel of meteorologists, emergency planners and utility representatives about climate change, how to combat complacency after a predicted storm doesn’t appear and how to get better marine forecasts.
“We often talk about this with our colleagues. The Earth is warming, whether it is from human actions or not, and in that environment you get a charged atmosphere,” said Fox 29 meteorologist Kathy Orr after an audience member asked if storms are more numerous and stronger.
Orr said warmer ocean temperatures have intensified storms in the U.S., and the usual weather cycles are a thing of the past.
Retired National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Eberwine agreed, saying even unnamed storms can be catastrophic today. He now works in emergency management for Absecon.
“A few weeks ago a nondescript disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico … drifted across waters with temperatures from 90 to 93 degrees, and deposited 31 inches of rain,” Eberwine said. “The cost of that disaster was $8.8 billion, and it was not a named storm, just a cluster of thunderstorms that sat and sat and sat.”
Moderator Frank Donato, of Ocean City’s Office of Emergency Management, said there have been five FEMA declared events since 2009, with two island evacuations for hurricanes Irene and Sandy. In the previous six years there were none, he said.
Audience members seemed to understand that forecasts are sometimes going to be wrong, such as the recent ones for Tropical Storm Hermine. But they expressed concern that people may not take future warnings as seriously after such miscalls.
Metorologists predicted Hermine would stay close to shore and dump heavy rains, winds and flooding on the South Jersey coast. Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency for Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties.
But instead the storm veered out to sea, and the area experienced some beach erosion but few other effects.
“Meteorologists are only as good as the last forecast” in people’s minds, said Press of Atlantic City and Longport Media meteorologist Dan Skeldon. He worries that the tourists who did not come down for Labor Day this year will ignore future warnings about storms.
“Next time they are going to come down,” he said, and may run into disaster.
It was the first such conference in Ocean City since right before Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Commercial fisherman Ed Blaine, of Somers Point, asked if the National Weather Service could update its marine forecasts more often. They are updated at 6 a.m. and then not until noon, he said.
Meteorologist Joe Miketta, of the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, said one buoy collects marine data for all of the Delaware Bay and South Jersey coastal area. The buoys are expensive to buy and maintain, Miketta said.
He told Blaine he wants to work more with fishermen to share data.
Other speakers were Jonathan Carr, founder and forecaster of Weather NJ on Facebook and Twitter; Martin Pagliughi, Cape May County Emergency Management director; Vince Jones, Atlantic County emergency management director; and Vince Maione, Atlantic City Electric region president.
Co-sponsored by the city of Ocean City and The Press of Atlantic City, the conference was live-streamed, and those who could not get to the Music Pier asked questions via social media.