Traffic data taken from the northbound Cape May toll plaza on the Garden State Parkway shows a striking resemblance in the trend between Sunday afternoon drives up the parkway and evacuations for Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012.

Pick a sunny August Sunday, any one, at around 6 p.m.

It’s not the best time to be in a rush.

Stop-and-go traffic, frequent checks on the time and a few “c’mon!”s is the scene that plays over and over again, each and every Sunday.

While those summer traffic jams may add to someone’s stress level, they also prepare them for evacuating in an emergency.

Traffic data taken from the northbound Cape May toll plaza on the Garden State Parkway shows a striking resemblance between Sunday afternoon drives up the parkway and evacuations for Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. This was the conclusion reached by researchers in a published article of the Journal of the International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards.

The results confirm what local emergency management officials have long believed.

“We always looked at traffic patterns, and for years, we’ve always said that when the traffic leaves on a summer Sunday, that’s always the way an evacuation would work out,” said Scott Morgan of the Office of Emergency Management Director for Upper Township, where the northbound Cape May toll plaza on the parkway is located.

Researchers used the Garden State Parkway because they could count vehicles as they passed through the toll booths, in addition to being the major artery through the region and an evacuation route.

There are also other routes that can be used to escape out of Cape May County. Routes 49, 52 and 347 all are options.

“It’s the most accurate representation for what they (the researchers) had,” Morgan said.

Take Irene. On, Aug. 26, 2011, the first full day of the evacuation order for the barrier islands, the traffic trends throughout the day closely mimicked the pattern of Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011 — seven days before Irene struck.

The only difference was that traffic during the actual evacuation grew and peaked three to four hours earlier than the typical Sunday drive.

In short, New Jersey practices for an emergency every summer weekend.

“We do get about four or five nor’easters each year that are equally as strong as the weaker tropical seasons that we get. This is in addition to the ‘evacuations’ that we do on Sundays. The combination of the two makes us pretty prepared for that (mandatory evacuation),” Jim Eberwine, retired National Weather Service Meteorologist said.

However, that does not mean South Jersey residents or visitors should wait until the last minute to leave.

Nearly 3,000 cars per hour went through the Cape May toll plaza on Aug. 21, 2011, the summer Sunday before Irene struck a week later. This was above the roughly 2,600 cars per hour that left at the peak of the Irene evacuation and well above the 1,200 cars per hour number that left at the peak of the off-season Sandy evacuation.

“The more that can be mobilized voluntarily (and earlier), the easier it will be,” Morgan said.

During Irene and Sandy, Morgan worked as the Deputy Director of OEM for Ocean City. If a tropical system ever makes evacuations a real possibility, shutting down the shore economy always is a concern.

“It complicates things when it is the summer season. ... It could politically be detrimental to your career,” Morgan said.

Ann Delaney, 57, is a realtor and Stone Harbor resident who evacuated for Irene and Sandy. She said she understands the need to balance the plight of business owners who will lose out on valuable summer revenue with the safety of all those on the island.

“Business owners lost revenue during Irene. Telling visitors to stay away always has a trickle effect on the economy. We never want to overhype, but we understand that OEMs can’t take the risk of putting people who don’t know about the storm to convince them to leave,” Delaney said.

Barrier Island Road Close Evacuation

The 96th Street bridge in Stone Harbor was being raised regularly to allow all of the boats to move to safer waters. 

In the days before Irene, Delaney juggled the task of protecting her weekly rental clients.

“We had to call everybody (weekly renters) and tell them that they had to leave. It took some convincing. We told the incoming Saturday residents not to come. ... I felt a lot of pressure to protect property owners. However, the reality was that I needed to protect myself,” Delaney said.

Josh Linthicum, 43, of Ocean City, was an essential employee in the casino industry during Irene and Sandy.

“I would want to ensure lives were in danger before shutting down the economy, which should also be in the state’s best interest given all of the taxes they take from casino revenue,” Linthicum said.

Still, as the study showed, Delaney had a positive experience during her evacuations. She said she had no major issues on the parkway as she evacuated to New Egypt, in Ocean County, for Irene. During Sandy, she took Route 55, but didn’t remember any problems, either.

“When OEMs call for an evacuation, people will respond... We did a good job because the winds and rains came after people left,” Eberwine said.

Eberwine believes because many people go to and from the Jersey Shore on the regular basis, they know what to expect leaving a coastline en mass.

“Other places don’t do that, like Texas during Hurricane Rita in 2005 (when 90 people died as a direct result of evacuations).”


This is my first newspaper but not my first forecast for NJ. I graduated with a B.S. in Meteorology from Rutgers. Two TV internships gave me a taste for the newsroom. Then, after nearly 4 years in private NJ weather, I'm forecasting South Jersey for you.

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