CAPE MAY POINT - Something looked different when the lifeguards reported to duty this year, and it may be one of the few positives to come from Hurricane Sandy.
There was no local beach replenishment last winter, but for some reason the beaches all looked bigger.
"I noticed the beaches were higher. The elevation was higher this year," Beach Patrol Capt. Bill Oat said.
James Patton, a local resident and one of Oat's lifeguards, found an entirely new beach off the rock groin at Alexander Avenue.
"I used to catch fish there," Patton said.
This year, people are planting umbrellas in the sand and launching kayaks in an area that Stewart Farrell, a coastal geologist at Richard Stockton College, said was underneath 12 to15 feet of water last year.
"It's the first time I've ever seen sand go around that point," Farrell said.
The visual observations have been confirmed by surveys. Hurricane Sandy eroded beaches on most towns along the New Jersey shore, but a few in the southern end of Cape May County gained sand. Farrell said Cape May Point picked up 175,000 cubic yards of sand.
"We profiled nine beach cells, and every one gained sand and elevation," Farrell said.
Sandy made landfall in Atlantic County and the brunt of the storm, the northeast headwinds, battered the coasts of Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties. There was some erosion in the northern and central sections of Cape May County, leading to countywide sand loss of 2.2 million cubic yards, but Farrell said the four southern towns of Cape May Point, Cape May, Wildwood Crest and Wildwood all fared well.
"Cape May beaches got narrower but higher in elevation. Wildwood gained 3 feet of elevation, but the shoreline retreated 100 to 150 feet," Farrell said.
Deputy Mayor Anita van Heeswyk said she is happy to have the free sand but knows it could be just a storm away from going somewhere else.
"We're anticipating losing some of that sand at the end of Alexander Avenue. Cape May Point is very grateful that sand has accrued, but we could be flattened in the next storm," van Heeswyk said.
Farrell doesn't expect the sand to necessarily stay long. Because of the geography of the Cape, Northeast storms generally don't erode the borough, but southerly winds can cause damage. Farrell said outgoing tides during southerly winds take sand out into the bay.
Northeast winds send sand down the coast, where it can end up in the shoaling off the borough, an area known locally as "the rips" because of the strong currents. Farrell did a survey of the rips for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach project years ago and found plenty of sand there, though taking it for beach replenishment would impact a popular fishing spot, so it's been left alone.
"There are 5 to 6 million cubic yards of sand in the rips," Farrell said.
The new sand in Cape May Point is probably not from northern New Jersey, at least not recently. Sand makes much shorter jumps in storms. Farrell said some of the sand probably came from neighboring Cape May, where The Cove Beach area on the west end of town lost 5 cubic yards per linear foot of beach after Sandy. Farrell describes this is as a small loss that can "happen in one afternoon." Farrell noted other beaches in Cape May and at the U.S. Coast Guard base gained from 13.54 to 22.47 cubic yards per foot of beach.
Cape May Beach Patrol Capt. Harry "Buzz" Mogck said some beaches got larger, and some shrank. Mogck said when lifeguards arrived on duty this year, they noticed they could take beach vehicles in some areas they couldn't go last year.
"The northern beaches that were bad before filled in, but we lost beach in the center of town and The Cove," Mogck said.
Farrell said wide beaches, such as in Wildwood, gained sand as water carrying it rolled in during the storm.
"A wider beach provides a place for it to drop out," Farrell said.
Wildwood Beach Patrol Capt. Steve Stocks said it left a hill, or crest, of sand just west of the normal high tide line. Stocks said the beach has been growing all summer, but it could be from a replenishment project in North Wildwood.
Farrell said Ocean City, which suffered the most damage from Sandy of Cape May County towns, was the big sand loser, with 30 cubic yards lost per foot of beach. Some of it likely made landfall in Strathmere, Upper Township, where beaches grew but nobody is really sure where found sand comes from.
"If they color-coded it, we could see what comes from Avalon or Stone Harbor," Stocks said.
Some Sandy sand may never make landfall again. Farrell said most sand that ends up in 16 feet of water or less makes its way back to a beach somewhere, but if it goes into water 30 feet deep or more it likely never gets back to shore.
"You need a monster wave to get that offshore sand ashore," Farrell said. "In 30 feet of water, it can go south and benefit somebody someday. Most of the sand (from Sandy) went farther out. The losses are real. They'll be pumping for more than a year somewhere in New Jersey," Farrell said.
Beach replenishment projects keep moving offshore sand to shore, where storms can redirect it, often giving other towns a windfall of sorts. The Army Corps pumps sand onto the beaches at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May knowing it will protect the base for awhile before drifting to Cape May and Cape May Point for bonus protection.
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