WASHINGTON – Delmarva beaches weathered this week’s nor’easter with little beach erosion and only minor flooding, according to local and National Weather Service officials.
Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias and boardwalk merchants said beach replenishment was vital in preventing significant damage, though they acknowledged the mid-Atlantic region was spared a major hit, despite the advanced billing of a “historical” storm.
Farther north in New Jersey, which was hit harder by the storm, one of the largest beach replenishment projects ever undertaken is being credited with sparing coastal areas from erosion and flooding.
In Ocean City, Mathias said there was “no significant amount of sand lost.”
“Our city engineer was out on the beaches yesterday and he said they were in excellent condition,” said Mathias, who credits beach replenishment with providing the protection that spared the town.
“The beach is a tremendous asset to have in place when you get this kind of weather,” he said. “Whether it is a nor’easter or a hurricane forecast, it gives you a tremendous sense of confidence and assurance that you have that much beach out in front.”
Ocean City merchants agreed that beach replenishment has been vital to their businesses and to the overall health of the town.
“Ocean City has one of the prettiest and biggest beaches around, and that is due to the beach replenishments,” said Charlene Elliott-Carr, general manager of the Purple Moose Saloon on the boardwalk.
Adam Showell, co-owner of the Castle in the Sand Hotel, also praised the virtues of beach replenishment.
“We’ve been in business for 40 years. Storms in the past in the winter time would wash through the first floor of the hotel,” Showell said.
But as the National Weather Service pointed out, the storm mostly missed the mid-Atlantic region.
“We got real lucky. Had the storm developed the way the models initially forecasted, it would have been much worse,” said Bill Sammler, a meteorologist with the weather service.
“The models initially predicted the storm would form off Cape Hatteras and stall off the New Jersey coast. Instead, it formed off the Virginia coast and stalled off Cape Cod,” Sammler said. Once the storm had formed, he said, “the overall evolution was handled reasonably well by the models.”
Sammler said that at its highest, the ocean was 2.5 feet above normal along the Delmarva coast, with waves on top of that. This occurred around 2 a.m. Monday between high and low tides. By high tide, the ocean was just 1.5 feet above normal, he said. Also, the strongest winds did not occur until Monday, by which point the winds had swung around from the east to the northwest.
“The stronger winds occurred today (Tuesday), in the 35 to 40 mph range from the northwest,” he said. “On Sunday, they were 30 mph from the east.”
Rehoboth Beach, Del., City Manager Gregory Ferrese said this storm has made him more eager than ever for a planned Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project, even though damage from this storm was “nothing” compared to a January 1992 storm.
“In that storm, we lost half our boardwalk at a cost of $1 million,” he said.
In Monmouth County, N.J., officials in several towns said they fared well, in part, because of a massive Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project underway there for the past several years.
That project has placed more than 21 million cubic yards of sand along a 21-mile stretch from Sandy Hook to Manasquan Inlet at a cost of $210 million. It includes the novel idea of cutting open or “notching” existing jetties to allow the natural flow of sand up and down the coast.
“We just had beach replenishment done. The storm took away a chunk of it,” said Richard Bianchi Jr., operations supervisory for the public works office of Bradley Beach, N.J.
“Now (that) they notched our jetties, the sand will come back,” Bianchi said. “If they hadn’t notched the jetties, only about half of the sand would’ve come back.”
Notching jetties is something that some environmentalists have suggested for other beach replenishment projects, including one scheduled to begin at Assateague Island this September.
Mike D’Amico of the Sierra Club has suggested notching the jetties at the inlet that separates Ocean City from Assateague as a way of allowing natural sand transport to resume. He said corps officials overseeing the Assateague project should see “if notching worked in the New Jersey beach replenishment and if that would be an option here.”