Sandy made landfall just before 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, as a post-tropical northeast storm, packing winds of nearly 85 mph and setting a record for the lowest barometric pressure in New Jersey, and potentially in the northeast United States, of 945 millibars.
Flooding from the storm reached major levels in Atlantic City, as the incoming tide met with the lowering storm surge. The water reached 8.9 feet at the recording station in Steel Pier, and likely is significantly higher in the back bays. High tide occurred at 8 p.m.
The storm was downgraded about 7 p.m. by the National Hurricane Center after multiple data sources confirmed that the storm had lost all of its tropical characteristics, the center said.
Aircraft reconnaissance found that the highest winds nearing 85 mph were in the southern portion of the storm, which did not affect New Jersey.
Sandy, which will still retain the name officially by the weather service, is expected to move over northern Maryland, before turning north and slowly moving through Pennsylvania and New York. The effects on South Jersey could be continued strong winds through at least tomorrow afternoon, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Gary Szatkowski.
The tide is as high as the water rose during the 1944 hurricane. However, the impact on the back bays cannot be determined until sunrise as the wind differences could create a more dire situation, Szatkowski said. Additionally, if the wind direction shifts while speeds exceed 50 mph, Szatkowski said, the water in the bays could pile up significantly higher than expected along the bay side of the barrier islands.
Much of the immediate coast and inland experienced calm conditions with little rain for more than two hours, prior and after landfall, a signal that Sandy retained a very large broad center of the storm as a vestige of its tropical origins, Szatkowski said.
However, Szatkowski warned, conditions would return with similar ferocity after the center passed and winds would come out of the opposite direction.
First responders in Atlantic County and Atlantic City were ordered to return to shelter and cease operations, per the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management, but were allowed to return to the streets at about 8 p.m.
President Obama declared New Jersey a disaster area, hours before Hurricane Sandy is to make landfall in South Jersey, opening up Federal Emergency Management Agency aid to help reimburse the relief effort.
Emergency crews in coastal towns spent much of today during the day fervently working on a massive, last-minute relief effort to evacuate those who initially refused to leave and even those who suddenly found themselves under water and under a mandatory evacuation order. Swift boat rescue crews were dispatched in many municipalities and the National Guard was called into Strathmere to help evacuate those who initially refused to leave.
Gov. Chris Christie ordered that travel cease on the Garden State Parkway, south of Woodbridge, beginning with the section between Cape May and the Atlantic City Expressway Monday morning.
Szatkowski warned that there could be serious cuts or even breaches in the barrier islands north of where landfall occurred, reminiscent of the March Storm of 1962, which split Long Beach Island at Harvey Cedars.
Prior to Sandy’s transition from a hurricane to a northeaster, hurricane force winds extended 175 miles from the storm’s center and tropical storm force winds extended 485 miles from the center, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. advisory.
Atlantic County has a travel ban in effect until further notice, with only essential workers and those workers providing an essential public service allowed to be on the roads. Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland in Cumberland County also have issued similar bans, as has Middle Township in Cape May County.
All state, local and county offices are closed today, as are courts, schools, parks, public libraries and senior centers. All garbage collection has been postponed.
Dean Iovino, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, said that while the tide Monday morning at Steel Pier was a little less than forecast, the effect in the back bay areas is more intense due to the strong onshore winds that will only increase.
“(The water is) going to go down a little bit, I don’t know if it will go down enough to all of them to leave,” Iovino said, referring to residents of barrier islands who stayed and now may want to leave.
Monday afternoon, forecasters predicted a tide of up to 9.5 feet, which could break the record of 9 feet, set during the December Storm of 1992. However as the storm sped up, that forecast has become more tentative.
In Cape May, the tide reached 8.9 feet Monday morning, which broke the record set by Hurricane Gloria of 8.8 feet. Forecasters said they thought the storm’s track would mean that Monday night’s tide in Cape May will not reach those levels again.
Many residents that did not evacuate decided to change their minds Monday morning after the first tide brought the water up much higher than residents expected. Ann Kooperman, who lives in Ventnor Heights, said Sunday she planned to stay, but when the water came up Monday morning, it reached her garage door and suddenly, she was concerned the first floor of her house would flood.
But when Kooperman decided to try leaving Ventnor Heights, she said the water was too deep and that conditions had deteriorated so badly, that she was afraid to drive.
But at 2:30 p.m., Kooperman reported the wind changing direction, which indicated the outer bands of the storm’s center were moving through and landfall would occur north of Ventnor, Szatkowski said.
“I think everybody in the Heights here is wishing they left,” said Kooperman, who lived through the March Storm of 1962 as a child.
Sandy’s recorded barometric pressure of 940 millibars, a measure of a storm’s strength and intensity, broke records, with the weather service saying the storm was the most intense system to ever hit the northeastern United States. The previous record of 946 millibars was set in 1938, during the “Long Island Express” hurricane.
While Sandy originated as a hurricane, the rare storm, which stretched nearly 1,000 miles and is impacting nearly a third of the nation, is a hybrid of a tropical system and a northeaster. While hurricanes are fueled by warm ocean waters and lose strength over cold water, Sandy transitioned into a northeaster type storm, which fuels from temperature differences.
The storm moved north over the Gulf Stream, which contained warmer water, but Sandy also interacted with a powerful frontal boundary that was bringing polar air from Canada.
Temperatures after the storm moves out the region will drop below average for early November, with forecasts calling for 50s during the day and 40s overnight until at least Sunday.
Power is expected to be out for days in many areas and Atlantic City Electric will not be able to begin assessing damage and completing preliminary tallies until the wind dies down, something that may not occur until late today or early Wednesday.
Inland winds are expected today to be between 40 mph and 50 mph, with higher gusts.