On The Road is back for 2019
On The Road, a New Jersey Press Association Award Winning segment in 2018, is back in 2019 with more interviews, more adventures and more digging out some of the coolest places nature can bring in the area. Tune in as we take you through South Jersey, and the year, with theme months.
Twice a month, I'll explore each theme by going to a place and interview the people that make it unique within South Jersey. All the while unearthing how our local leaders live with the elements elements, give you tips on our environment and more.
Thanks to Press of Atlantic City graphics artist Krishna Mathias and developer Mike DellaVecchia, you can follow along on our journey with our interactive page. Watch where “On the Road” has ventured to, find upcoming stops and view last year's original 63 town adventure. 2018's On The Road was a New Jersey Press Association winning series.
Here's where On The Road will be going next for June Booms.
What I'll be doing:
Open to the Public?:
Future “On the Road” dates:
It'll be a "Sandy July"! We'll be talking sun safety and a South Jersey classic, lifeguard races.
FROZEN FEBRUARY: On The Road with the Art Dorrington Ice Hockey Foundation
FROZEN FEBRUARY: Staying warm in Smithville for On The Road
Public works crews just wrapped up one of their toughest months
On The Road's 'March Madness' theme saw Joe to the Vineland Public Works. During the month, they utilize almost everything in their skill set to tackle the changing of seasons.
March’s tug of war between the fading winter and the rising spring may send some people spinning.
But for local public works departments, the change of seasons means using everything they know to tackle whatever conditions come their way.
The drastic swings in temperature mean road crews need to be prepared for whatever weather heads their way.
“One day it could be in the high 60s. We could be golfing. Then, the next three days, you have a buildup of snow that turns to ice,” said Brian Dunn, general road supervisor and 40-plus-year employee of the Vineland DPW.
March’s potential fury is echoed throughout the city.
“Don’t let your guard down, just make sure the trucks are safe,” Dunn told his crews during the month.
Vineland has 1,014 lane miles in the city, New Jersey’s largest by area. Lane miles account not just for the road you drive on, but each lane and shoulder as well. In charge of the $2.5 million road budget, Dunn ensures motorists and pedestrians are safe, whether it’s by filling potholes or plowing.
At Atlantic City International Airport, temperatures have spanned from 2 to 87 degrees during March throughout its recorded history (since 1943). Average low temperatures start in the upper 20s but wind up in the upper 30s. In winter 2018, 9.6 inches of snow fell at the airport, the fifth highest for any March in recorded history.
“I would say it’s probably one of our more challenging months, sometimes with late-season snow events; frequent rain events which raise flooding/ponding concerns; high winds that may spread debris and litter along the roadways; and potholes that continue to develop with temperature fluctuations,” said Greg Brookins, head of the Atlantic County Department of Public Works.
This past March was much tamer than last year’s, when four nor’easters, multiple snow events that required salting and/or plowing, and numerous coastal flooding events wore down the state.
“Many times we face lingering snow events in March, but fortunately not so much this year,” Brookins said.
Still, Vineland officials noted that pothole activity was high this past March. Vineland public works Superintendent Mark Gugliemi said the city experienced three “thaws,” which caused them to use plenty of patches to keep vehicles from blowing out a tire or sustaining damage.
The wettest year on record and a soggier than average start to 2019 are still not enough to …
“A lot of people have water in their basements. We have places where the residents are pumping water down the gutters,” Dunn said.
He noted that this water spills out onto the roads. When temperatures drop below freezing, as they inevitably do during March, road crews are out there salting those areas to keep people safe.
“The water in many cases simply has nowhere to go until we get a break between rain events and the ground has a chance to dry out a bit. In the meantime, we continue to make improvements where possible,” Brookins said.
MARCH MANDESS: Combating coastal flooding at the Ocean City Fire Department
Farmers, experts predict a growing season in full bloom this spring
On The Road's 'April Blooms' theme saw Joe go to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Mays Landing to explore the upcoming crop growing season.
The combination of a record wet 2018, a wetter than average winter and a dry patch in March lead many to believe South Jersey will sprout strongly when growing season arrives.
This story was updated to include all of 2018's numbers.
“The good news is that we’ve had multiple months with above average precipitation. For any soils that can hold the water for a while, we’re in good shape, the groundwater is in good shape,” said Dave Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist and distinguished professor at Rutgers University.
The state averaged 64.79 inches of precipitation in 2018, the highest since records were first kept in 1895. Rain and snow slopped the soil after the growing season ended. November was the wettest on record at Atlantic City International Airport. The period from December through February was the ninth wettest meteorological winter at the airport.
While this could have set up too wet of a start, March saw slightly lower than average precipitation, the perfect balance needed to get a garden going.
Growing season begins with the last frost and freeze, typically late March to mid-April in South Jersey, and ends with the first frost or freeze, typically late October to early November.
“The rain last year was terrible for yields, and attempting to plant and harvest in wet conditions can be very detrimental to fields,” said Alex Sheppard, production manager of Sheppard Farms in Lawrence Township, Cumberland County. “The conditions in December through February held us back a little, but the recent dry weather has more than made up for it. The conditions have made for good planting.”
“We’re all pretty optimistic for this year. The temperatures weren’t crazy. We didn’t have blueberry bushes growing early. All of the buds held tight,” said Marc Carpenter of Joseph J. White Farm in Browns Mills, Burlington County.
Drought has not stricken South Jersey since April 2017, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Drought Monitor. No further drought is expected in the near future.
“The water’s not been in excess where you can’t get by on hand to start planting. Most of the spots you can still work a small area by hand, especially if they’re using raised bed gardens,” said Richard VanVranken, Atlantic County agent for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
Cool-season plants, such as lettuce, cabbage and broccoli, are good to plant now, according to the extension, which provides agricultural support.
Free resources are available from the extension to New Jersey residents, whether they are a first-time home gardener or a seasoned veteran of the hoe and shovel.
“There are 21 county offices across the state. Each has agricultural support,” VanVranken said.
Master gardners are trained for 20 weeks in Atlantic County through the extension. Once the session is complete, they can be at the service of anyone.
VanVranken said anyone can create their own mini greenhouse by cutting open a plastic water jug or juice container and putting it over a plant in the soil. For nights where temperatures are expected to dip near freezing, leave the cap on the plant. This allows outgoing heat, or radiation, from the ground to stay inside the container, preventing the plant from being exposed to the cold air.
During the day, take the cap off, especially on sunny days, when the strong sun can heat the surface of the ground quickly. This will allow the air to mix and vent around the plant.
Other tips include keeping plants from dying during the transition month of April. The last 32-degree freeze, on average, ranges from late March to early April for much of Cape May County and lands east of the Garden State Parkway to late April for the rest of the region.
However, plants such as cabbage and broccoli can still be grown. At the cooperative extension, they’re grown until the end of May or early June.
“They’re run until the end of May or early June,” said Belinda Chester, Rutgers Master Gardener Program coordinator of the Cooperative Extension.
“They work the helpline and events across the county. ... You can call our office (609-625-0056), and a Master Gardener will be there to answer,” Chester said.
More advanced tips, such as for growing baby lettuce, are offered as well.
“We can take it (the potted lettuce) apart and plant multiple plants, as long as we don’t rip the fruit off of each one. ... Or you can plant multiple ones together and then, in a few weeks, come back to eat as baby lettuces,” VanVranken said.
Pollen season off to a strong and sneezy start in South Jersey
On The Road's 'April Blooms' theme saw Joe go to with Dr. Kathy Sedia at Stockton Univeristy, talking about the upcoming pollen season.
“The itchy eyes and sneezing. My dark gray truck is completely green. I live in a wooded area, and you can see the pollen falling off the trees,” Jake Jesky, 29, of Hopewell Township said.
While the weather prevented South Jersey from getting its usual start to the pollen season, that doesn’t mean it’s lost its runny-nose luster.
“It started late, but strong. Anecdotally, everyone has been sneezing. Even my dog!” said Ekaterina Sedia, associate professor of biology at Stockton University.
Pollen is part of the annual ritual of breaking into the warm days the change in seasons bring. When pollen gets its start depends on how the weather cooperates.
“It varies quite a bit from year to year, but, generally, it starts with the first warm week in March and goes well into May,” Sedia said.
Temperatures during March were 1.2 degrees below average at Atlantic City International Airport. The first nine days of the month did not register a day above average, with a stretch of lows in the teens from March 5-9. This helped keep pollen from being produced and spread around.
A double dose of some snow, first on March 1 and another on March 9, made outdoor allergy season seem far away.
“This year, and in 2018, the season started pretty late (mid-March),” Sedia said.
Compared to other places in New Jersey, Sedia said, the amount of pollen in South Jersey is “probably higher” on a year-to-year basis. This is a result of the forested Pinelands that dominate much of the region’s landscape, as well as having a large number of rural areas, which typically have more blooming trees and grass — the culprits for your required daily dose of allergy medication.
Another reason for the probable higher volume of pollen in the region is due to the type of trees.
The pitch pine trees that dominate the landscape are not the most efficient pollinators. Pollen is produced in male cones, which are smaller and yellower than the female, large brown cones many know.
The wind is the only way get from the males to the females in different parts of the trees. Compare this to bright flowers that attract bees and insects. In this case, the bees and insect handle much of the pollination.
Want the allergy season to come and go without a burst of pollen coatings your car?
A hard-freeze in late March or early April would reduce pollen production, but at the expense of damage to many of the developing flowers. Not to mention, other early-season crops and vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.
Those days are becoming fewer and further between, though.
Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central in Princeton, said global climate change is increasing the number of days that fail to drop below 32, expanding the pollen season.
“We are seeing the growing season getting longer, which also correlates to allergy season. One year may start earlier and one year may start later, but when you add them all up, it gets longer and longer over time,” Sublette said.
Even without a warming planet, the increase in carbon dioxide would play a role. According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, annual mean global carbon dioxide concentrations have increased from 315.97 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in 1959 to 409.92 ppm on Jan. 1, 2019.
“For higher carbon dioxide concentration, the plants and certain species of trees do produce more pollen. That’s more allergenic protein,” Sublette said.
According to Climate Central, Atlantic City has warmed about 3.1 degrees since 1970, compared to 3 degrees in New Jersey as a whole and 2.5 degrees in the United States.
Sedia echos those statements on a local level.
“Global climate changes seems to increase overall pollen counts, especially in New Jersey, where 11 of the 15 warmest years happened in the last two decades. As winters get milder, expect earlier and more plentiful pollen,” Sedia said.
Despite forecasted rain, late start, Mother's Day still perfect time to plant
On The Road's 'Maritime May' theme saw Joe go to Brigantine. The Brigantine Garden Club spoke about the upcoming flower planting season and the difference between shore and mainland growing.
A tradition for many South Jersey families this Mother’s Day weekend is planting flowers such as irises and carnations.
While local gardening experts saw a late start to the season, and the threat of rain arrives Sunday, the holiday will always be synonymous with garden time.
We get beautiful Mother’s Day weather a day early Saturday, as a pair of back-to-back storms…
“I generally plant my garden on or after Mother’s Day. It ensures no more frosts. Plus, Mom likes it,” said Jessica Webster, of Estell Manor. She added that while she’ll be traveling to Ohio this weekend, she had her plants ready.
Potted plants are the gift of choice for many to their moms and other moms in their life. The last frost is typically late March to mid-April in South Jersey, early enough to have plants in bloom for Mother’s Day. Still, freezes are common throughout April and into early May.
On The Road's 'April Blooms' theme saw Joe go to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Mays L…
There has never been a low temperature at or below freezing on Mother’s Day at Atlantic City International Airport, where records date to 1944. Millville and Cape May have stayed freeze-free during their periods of record as well. Though, it should be said there have been four times after May 12 since 1944 at A.C. Airport where the thermometer has dropped below a potential killing temperature of 32 degrees.
Regardless, the chance of it being too cold to sustain the new life of plants is low. Though this year, the planting season has been seen as late by some people.
On The Road's 'April Blooms' theme saw Joe go to with Dr. Kathy Sedia at Stockton Univeristy…
“This year, everything seems to be late. ... The weather we have seen and are experiencing tells us that maybe this year it will be May showers that bring our June flowers! However, by Mother’s Day, the feat of frost is now behind us,” said Patrizia Violante, president of the Brigantine Garden Club.
The club is responsible for the 100-plus flower beds on the ends of islands on the city’s streets. Violante has bed No. 25.
Violante says if you’re a first-time or relatively new gardener, a few expert tips will get your garden colorful and growing quickly.
“Don’t forget to loosen those roots when you replant those little purchases from the store. ... If you aren’t perfectly familiar with the growth habits of the plant, read up on it, especially its sun and watering requirements — they are key,” Violante said.
If you do not see color in your garden, don’t worry, it’s early.
That color that will bring joy to the faces of Mom for months will arrive.
“My mom likes to see the color. ... I recently bought hibiscus, black-eyed Susan and passion flower,” Webster said.
And if it doesn’t work out, chalk it up to life lessons.
“Don’t get disheartened if one of your plantings doesn’t work. ... Get out those gardening gloves, prepare your soil, breathe in the fresh air, enjoy and try, try again,” Violante said.
Memorial Day weather historically tumultuous in South Jersey
While Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, it’s still technically spring in South Jersey. That means anything from swimsuits to sweaters at the shore.
“People should be prepared for a wide range of temperatures. Despite some summertime warmth being a possibility, along the coast, it often won’t last more than a day or two before winds turn off the ocean and bring in cooler air due to a sea-breeze or perhaps a cold front,” said Dave Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist.
And it’s not just the tourists who need to be prepared.
“Full gear (including socks) are a must early in the season. Sitting at the water’s edge with cold air and water makes for a very cold day,” said Greg Smallwood, chief of the Margate Beach Patrol.
Memorial Day weekend will be very pleasant. Sunshine will take the region through Saturday, Sunday and Monday. High temperatures will generally stay in the 70s at the shore, with 80s on the mainland, with rain risks Sunday night only.
However, this year is more the exception than the rule.
Take 2018, for example. At Atlantic City International Airport, temperatures on Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend were downright summery, with highs of 86 degrees and 91 degrees, respectively, sunshine and no rain.
Then a system came through.
The high temperature was 79 degrees Sunday, but that was very early. For much of the daytime hours, temperatures were in the 60s and 50s as 1.37 inches of rain fell. Monday only saw a trace of rain, but limited sunshine and highs in the 60s made lying on the beach just a memory for most.
Part of the fluctuating temperatures is because of the orientation of the state.
New Jersey’s coastline, particularly in South Jersey, faces south-southeast more than east, and sea-breezes can be a daily factor.
“Just a slight difference in wind direction will make a difference (in temperature),” Robinson said.
On average, high temperatures for the end of May in Cape May run from 73-74 degrees, and 69-71 degrees at the Farley Marina in Atlantic City.
“The weather doesn’t seem to get consistently good until the very end of June,” Smallwood said.
Even on wet or damp weekends, though, the words Memorial Day weekend are still enough to drive tourists and locals out of their homes.
“People are always anticipating summer at the shore so greatly, they’re excited to be here, even on a wet weekend. On a very busy weekend, like Memorial Day, we have 60,000 to 70,000 people on the island,” said Katherine Custer, director of the department of community services in Sea Isle City.
It’s not just tourists who feel this way.
“Every year the lifeguards and officers are excited for the beach and the start of a new season, no matter the weather,” Smallwood said.
“I think for consistent good weather, one would have to wait until mid-late, perhaps late June right along the coast. Folks have to be patient and wait for the nearby water to warm,” Robinson said, adding that, for a near uninterrupted stretch of summer weather between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the southern Virginia coast southward is likely where one needs to go, but South Carolina to be certain.
While cooler ocean temperatures early in the summer keep the air cool, the warmer water temperatures later in the season keep the air warmer longer into fall.
“The bonus here is that the warmth continues longer into the fall than elsewhere in New Jersey as the water cools slower than the land and the atmosphere,” Robinson said.
From graduation ceremonies to beaches, how South Jersey protects us from lightning
As the number of people outside goes up during June, so does the risk for lightning, and being struck by lightning.
From making sure graduating seniors turn their tassels without a hassle to giving the green light for golfers to a safe swim for those at the beach, those who make the call to bring the people out of harm’s way are on heightened alert during the summer.
Murray Wolf has been patrolling Avalon’s beaches since 1967. The Beach Patrol Captain and his team use fast communication and a wide range of technology to be alert of incoming lightning to the Cape May County Community’s beaches.
“Beach patrol officers are constantly monitoring the situation when inclement weather is possible. We do this with our radar in the beach house and lightning detection warning systems which are sent directly to each officer on duty,” Wolf said.
Wolf says that their “caution” area is within 15 miles, while their “warning” area is within 10 miles. The captain or lieutenant in charge has the final call to clear the beaches.
From 1959 to 2017, 74 people in New Jersey died from being struck by lightning, according to a report Vaisala, an environmental services company, made for the National Weather Service. On a positive note, the 0.17 per 1,000,000 people ratio was ranked 39th among the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
For context, Wyoming, the least populated state in the country, was first with a rate of 1.19 (30 total).
Being out in an open place, with little area for cover, is near the top for least-safe places to be during a thunderstorm. The annual Shoprite LGPA Classic at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township places heavy emphasis on lightning safety, due to its large open areas and the large number of spectators. The LPGA contracts with DTN, a meteorological consulting and data analysis company in Minnesota, to have a meteorologist on site to keep the rules officials aware of weather hazards.
“Lightning safety is the single most important factor when considering delays. ... Given the unpredictable nature of exactly when and where a lightning strike will occur, it has the main focus,” said Marcus Hustedde, a sports and recreation meteorologist for DTN.
Still, perhaps no place does weather matter for more than one day of the year than during high school graduation season. At least 19 public high schools in Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic and southern Ocean counties planned outdoor graduations during June.
Considering the safety of the graduating seniors, parents, teachers and guests and the man-hours needed to set up or move a graduation, the decision to keep or move a ceremony requires planning and close monitoring.
“We will make the decision to have the graduation ceremony indoors or outdoors around noon. If we decide to move the graduation ceremony, we will send a call out to all of the parents, board member and distinguished guests,” said George West, principal of Middle Township High School.
West also consults with David Salvo, superintendent of Middle Township Public Schools, the morning of a graduation to make a final decision.
Joe's 7-Day Forecast
Egg Harbor Township High School, June 21, 4:20 p.m.
It'll be partly sunny and likely dry as graduation occurs. Temperatures will be in the upper 70s, with lowering humidity.
Bridgeton High School, June 21
It'll be partly sunny. There is a small risk of a brief shower (20%) but that is all. Temperatures will be in the upper 70s, with lowering humidity. As they say, good things happen to those who wait.
Numerous radar apps and websites have the ability to show where lightning already is striking. However, meteorologists can use their skill, training and tools to see when lightning likely will form, minutes before it happens.
“I look at freezing levels and cloud echo tops (how tall the clouds are) on radar to help determine the potential for lightning. Another useful tool I use is a CS110, an instrument that monitors the electric field in the area. The CS110 adds value as it can catch onto the electric fields ... before any strike occurs,” Hustedde said.
The CS110 was brought to Seaview for the Classic earlier this month.
The potential for thunderstorms can be forecasted out about a week ahead of time. While location and the skill of a forecaster can differ, on average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that seven-day forecasts are about 80 percent accurate.
“We monitor the weather a week in advance. Every morning, we will check the forecast for the day and see if there are any updates. Martin Pagliughi, the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management director (and mayor of Avalon) sends us storm briefings,” Wolf said.
In the decades since Wolf began patrolling the beaches, weather information has become more accurate and instantaneous. In the 1960s, radar and lightning detection were not easily accessible.
“Now, we can receive up-to-the-minute updates with our beach house computer as well as the instantaneous lightning alerts,” Wolf said.
Dissecting a tornado, from forecasting it to confirming its touchdown
In a year full of severe weather, and the occasional tornado warning, it takes an all-hands-on-deck strategy to keep people informed and safe, from forecasting the risk of a tornado to an official survey confirmation.
On average, New Jersey sees two tornadoes a year. However, this year so far, there have been three confirmed touchdowns. One was in Sussex County on May 28, and two were June 13 in Gloucester County.
“The past couple of weeks have been exhausting and tiring,” said Alex Staarmann, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
Southeastern New Jersey saw its share of storms recently that had the potential for tornadoes. Beth Schofield, of Greenwich Township, was watching TV on the evening of May 28.
“My husband texted me from the Salem Nuclear Plant to be careful because there’s talk of a tornado going on. I immediately freaked out. ... I ran outside to look at the sky and take pictures — that’s what we do with thunderstorms,” Schofield said.
A tornado warning was attached to that storm at 7:59 p.m., extending from Stow Creek to Downe Township. While the weather service did not confirm a tornado touchdown, a water spout did appear in Fortescue.
“I didn’t notice (the rotating), but my husband did from the nuclear plant and my neighbor did,” Schofield said.
Twelve tornado warnings have been issued in the state by the weather service as of June 24. That’s the second-highest amount in New Jersey in a given year, according to Iowa State University’s Iowa Environmental Mesonet, which dates to 1989. Typically the state sees tornadoes from May to July.
“On May 28, we realized this would be an elevated threat for our area. It looked like we were going to see a tornado somewhere,” Staarmann said.
The process from forecasting the potential for severe weather to confirmation of touchdown runs over days.
The Storm Prediction Center, a government agency in Oklahoma, will map Severe Weather Outlook areas four to eight days in advance. Once within three days, the center will issue categorical and probabilistic risk categories for severe weather potential. There are five categories, ranging from lowest risk to highest. Early on the day of the event, risks pertain to the probability of damaging winds (50 knots or higher), large hail (more than one inch in diameter) and tornadoes.
The center will issue a Mesoscale Convective Discussion typically one to three hours before any tornado or severe thunderstorm watch goes into effect. The update lets forecasters know what conditions are and their likelihood of issuing a tornado or severe thunderstorm watch.
“Then, the SPC coordinates with us (the local weather service office),” Staarmann said. The coordination involves what counties should be placed under a watch and what type of watch should be issued.
A watch will be issued when the ingredients for a severe thunderstorm or tornado are present. Then, the Mount Holly office goes into tracking mode.
“There’s oftentimes one or two people that are just watching radar and keeping an eye out for anything severe. Then, there’s a communications person who’s looking at social media and talking to the media,” Staarmann said.
Only the National Weather Service has the power to issue a tornado warning. A warning is issued if a tornado is indicated on radar or confirmed on the ground, though the latter is rarer in New Jersey.
“Ninety percent of the time, you won’t have a picture or video here, because the rain is wrapped around them,” Staarmann said.
If damage reports start to be sent in by the media or public, the weather service will go out to survey the area and make a final determination on the status of the storm.
“We have at least two people, though it depends on the severity of the damage and location. Typically, the storm survey team is coordinated with the emergency management within the county. They’ll have more information on when the damage starts and ends.” Staarmann said.
The survey team typically will go out the day following the storm.
“We’d start our assessment of taking pictures and going through the Enhanced Fujita Scale of indicators,” Staarmann said. The EF scale ranges from 0 to 5 and indicates the severity of a tornado.
If a tornado is confirmed, that information is typed into a report and messaged out as a Public Information Statement, which is then pushed out to the community.
On average, New Jersey sees two tornadoes a year, in the bottom rung of average tornadoes wh…