After making an initial landfall in North Carolina on Saturday morning as a Category 1 hurricane, Irene maintained minimal hurricane strength as the center made a second landfall at Little Egg Inlet near Atlantic City, NJ on Sunday morning. Though sustained hurricane forced winds(74+ mph) were not experienced anywhere along the NJ shore, this is technically the first hurricane center to make landfall in New Jersey since 1903. Several tropical storms of similar or greater strength have brushed by the state since that time though. In some cases they caused more damage than Irene, such as the 1944 hurricane that destroyed the Atlantic City boardwalk. Irene packed a very powerful punch though inflicting widespread wind/flooding damage, millions of power outages, and even 40 deaths across the Eastern U.S.
In New Jersey impacts were very severe and in 7 cases deadly, but I think it is safe to say that Irene could have been much worse as a whole. As Irene approached North Carolina late last week, she was expected to strengthen to a Category 4 storm and then make landfall in NC as a category 3 storm with 115 mph winds. With a gradual weakening from there, Irene could have affected New Jersey/NYC as a much stronger category 1 or even category 2 hurricane. This would have multiplied the impacts to near crippling in the area with the track that the storm center took. Peak wind gusts would have been 80-100+ mph in the spots that received 60-75 mph gusts, and the coastal flooding/tidal surge would have been even worse than it already was. Irene thankfully could never quite attain this strength and organization because of her massive size. She had the low pressure usually associated with a category 3 hurricane, but the peak winds never translated and had weakened to category 1 strength as she made landfall in NC.
This is not to take away from the damaging impacts the storm did have in the state. Aside from the 7 deaths, thousands of trees were brought down during and behind the storm inflicting a peak of 928,000 power outages in NJ alone. Winds gusting between 50 and 75 mph Saturday night did much of the damage, but the 50+ mph westerly wind gusts after the 5-10 inches of rain fell by Sunday afternoon uprooted more trees and worsened the outages.
Major to record flooding of area rivers continued well after the storm, destroying homes, businesses and blocking roadways for electric utility workers. The Rockaway, Pompton, Ramapo, Passaic, Millstone and Raritan rivers all experienced either record flood levels or near record flood levels (behind Hurricane Floyd in 1999). In some spots, a 100 year to 500 year flood occurred as a result of Irene! Try calling the storm “overhyped” to the people in the path of this catastrophe!
Beach erosion and coastal flooding was rather extreme especially at high tide Sunday morning, though it wasn’t crippling or destructive to the entire shore. The storm did bring a 7 foot storm surge to Long Beach, NY and a 4.5 foot surge to lower Manhattan. The underground infrastructure of the city was thankfully not damaged as a result of this minor flooding!
As of Monday evening, over 500,000 residents remain without power in New Jersey. Some of the more isolated residents may remain in the dark through the end of the week as utility workers prioritze the more widespread problems first. Area rivers have begun to recede, but moderate to major flooding is still occurring in many locations. The slow-reacting Passaic River in northeast New Jersey will remain above major flood stage through at least Friday. Damage estimates for the state are in the billions.
More videos and pictures of Hurricane Irene from around the region
The tropical Atlantic remains active as we near the peak of the season. Tropical Storm Katia (as a fellow of mine pointed out, Katrina without the r and n) has formed in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean. She is expected to become a major hurricane over the next few days as she heads west-northwest across the Atlantic. At this point, the storm has a lesser chance of making it across the ocean to affect the U.S. than Irene had, but we will need to monitor her progress over the next 2 weeks. Closer to home, some tropical development is possible in the Gulf of Mexico over the next week as well.