Powerful winds from a potent northeaster have downed power lines, damaged buildings and whipped coastal waters to potentially result in one of the 10 highest tides on record in Atlantic City and Cape May.
Flooding is expected to persist until Friday, especially along the back bays, warned the National Weather Service, which has issued a coastal flood warning until Friday morning. Major beach erosion also is expected today and into Friday, undoing much of the work that municipalities have done to fortify dunes damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October.
Water levels at high tide before dawn today in Atlantic City may be near 8 feet, which is the threshold for major tidal flooding. Water levels in Cape May could exceed 8.9 feet, which is the record water level set during Sandy.
“This isn’t destined to be a Sandy, but it’s going to be up there testing some previous storms,” said David Robinson, a state climatologist and Rutgers University professor.
Wind gusts from the slow-moving storm caused significant property damage in places weakened or still recovering from Sandy. In Ventnor, large sections of shingles ripped off several roofs recently repaired after Sandy’s damaging winds. In Stone Harbor, a section of the roof on the Sanderling Condominiums at the corner of 96th Street and First Avenue blew off, forcing authorities to evacuate residents about 1 p.m. In Wildwood, the wind also blew off a section of the facade outside Jilly Oh Brian’s.
More than 20 utility poles along Stone Harbor Boulevard between the Scotch Bonnet Bridge and the Garden State Parkway were downed by high winds, cutting power to about 3,500 Atlantic City Electric customers and closing the road to traffic. The majority of those customers have had power restored, but a few customers may not have electricity until today or later, spokesman Frank Tedesco said.
Two major transmission lines to a Margate substation were damaged, cutting power to more than 19,000 Atlantic City Electric customers in parts of Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport, Tedesco said. Repairs could take until today, he said.
Forecasts also call for minor to moderate flooding levels during high tide along the oceanfront until at least Friday. That may mean floodwaters could get bottled up in the back bays, causing lasting problems, said Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly.
“The big concern is the back bays. I don’t think they’re going to drain, and that’s going to be a continued problem with multiple high tide cycles,” he said.
Winds also damaged part of a roof at Vineland High School, allowing water into the building. District officials said workers must wait until the wind dies down before they can make repairs. The Atlantic City Beach Patrol station at the States Avenue beach also suffered severe wind damage.
Gusts reached tropical-storm force along the coast — 61 mph in Ocean City and 65 mph in Cape May, according to the National Weather Service. Atlantic and Cumberland counties also reported high winds, with gusts of 60 mph in Somers Point and Atlantic City, 51 mph at Millville Airport in Cumberland County, 54 mph in Wildwood, and 56 mph in West Cape May, the weather service said.
Rainfall, according to the Office of the State Climatologist, was somewhat less than had been predicted. As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, 1.03 inches had been recorded at the Atlantic City Marina, 1.2 inches in Cape May Court House and 0.8 inches in Egg Harbor Township. The original forecasts for 3 to 5 inches of snow in South Jersey were downgraded throughout the day.
In Brigantine, where Wednesday afternoon’s high tide sent water crashing up against the seawall in the city’s north end, Emergency Management Coordinator James Bennett said that while flooding this morning would be significant, most places in the city would be fine as long as houses were built to flood elevations.
“When compared to Sandy, it’s nothing,” he said. “ It should be a minor inconvenience if everything (meteorologists) are calling for goes through.”
Delaware Bay communities such as Fortescue and Gandys Beach in Downe Township, Cumberland County, suffered millions of dollars in damage from Sandy. County, state and federal officials last week toured those sites and other locations in Maurice River, Commercial, Lawrence, Downe and Greenwich townships that suffered significant damage from the hurricane.
Local officials said some battered dikes along Delaware Bay and the Maurice River were barely holding back floodwaters. The officials said their municipalities stand to lose homes and much-needed businesses should those dikes fail completely.
Ocean City and Stone Harbor warned residents that if they are in flood-prone areas, they should move their cars to higher ground. Long Beach Township issued a voluntary evacuation for oceanfront homes in Holgate and between 72nd Street in Brant Beach to 84th Street in Brighton Beach. The township warned that Long Beach Boulevard may be impassible today.
North Wildwood police Chief Bob Matteucci said the city prepared its high water vehicles if they were needed during high tide. Parts of Delaware Avenue flooded Wednesday afternoon, and the waves were crashing against the dunes between 24th to 26th avenues.
Beach erosion in many municipalities is a major concern, particularly because beaches and dunes still have not been fully rebuilt after Sandy.
Moderate flooding means that many flood-prone roads and areas will be under water, and property damage is possible. Major flooding means widespread damage is possible. In Atlantic City, moderate flooding occurs when the water level on the ocean reaches 7 feet above the average lowest tide. In Cape May, that level occurs when the water reaches 7.7 feet.
Major flooding occurs when the water reaches 8 feet in Atlantic City, something that has happened only nine times since record-keeping began in 1911, according to the weather service. Major flooding in Cape May begins when the water level reaches 8.7 feet, which has happened only three times since record keeping began in 1965.
By comparison, the water level during Hurricane Sandy reached 8.8 feet on the oceanfront in Atlantic City, but as high as 10.5 feet in the bays. In Cape May, the water level during Sandy reached 8.9 feet, the highest recorded.
Staff writers Thomas Barlas, Anjalee Khemlani and Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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