By Donald Wittkowski
It was a messy mixture of drenching rains, howling winds and even some sticky snow.
But the most significant thing about the powerful nor’easter that lashed the Jersey Shore on Friday was what was missing – flooding.
In Sea Isle City, low-lying streets that normally are swamped by floodwater during coastal storms were surprisingly dry. On Landis Avenue near 38th Street an orange “Road Flooded” warning sign was surrounded by asphalt, not water.
Strong northwesterly winds that blew from the land side on Friday prevented tidal waters from creeping out of the bay and flooding the island, explained Mike Jargowsky, deputy coordinator of Sea Isle’s Office of Emergency Management.
“The northwest winds are helping out,” he said. “It helps push the water out and keep it out.”
While coastal New England was getting hammered by the same nor’easter, Sea Isle was fortunate to avoid any truly devastating weather as of Friday afternoon.
“It’s too early to say whether we dodged a bullet, but if you’re talking about comparing us to New England, we did,” Jargowsky said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Jargowsky, however, cautioned that flooding remains a strong possibility if the wind direction changes to the northeast as the storm continues to linger at the shore through Saturday and even Sunday.
Forecasters expect the winds to shift direction and blow from the north or northeast on Saturday and Sunday. The exact wind direction will help determine the severity of any potential flooding in Sea Isle on Saturday, especially during the high tide cycle at 8:53 a.m. and 9:14 p.m.
The National Weather Service is predicting sustained winds at the shore between 25 mph and 35 mph, with gusts up to 65 mph.
On Friday, raging winds ripped away part of a gigantic cloth tarp that is covering Sea Isle’s water tower on 39th Street and Central Avenue while the 135-foot-high structure is being repainted.
The Townsends Inlet Bridge linking Sea Isle with Avalon will remain closed to traffic until Sunday morning as a precautionary measure. The Cape May County Bridge Commission closed the span out of fear floodwater would wash over the low-lying road that leads to the bridge on the Avalon side.
At one point Friday, barriers that were placed at the base of the bridge to block traffic were blown across the road by high winds, Jargowsky said.
Road signs, traffic lights, store awnings and flags also were whipped by the wind. The glass doors at the Sea Isle City Welcome Center shook when they were caught by wind gusts.
“Look at what the wind blew in,” Chris Donohue, an employee at the Welcome Center, joked as Kathy Kysor entered the building amid the blustery conditions.
“I’m glad I’m not skinny. I would have gotten blown away,” Kysor quipped in response.
Despite the stormy weather, Kysor stopped in at the Welcome Center on Friday afternoon to buy eight summer beach tags. A full-time resident of Wilmington, Del., Kysor has a summer home in Sea Isle on 54th Street.
“I was out getting my hair cut. I was driving around and thought I would get all my errands done. So, I’m here to buy my beach tags,” she explained.
Kysor was not the only person who ventured out in the storm to buy beach tags. As of early Friday afternoon, Donohue had sold 29 tags.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Donohue said.
Although storm conditions have not been as harsh as initially feared, Sea Isle’s police, fire and ambulance departments are ready to respond to emergencies, Jargowsky said. Two large, military-style trucks used by the police department to drive through floodwaters were on standby Friday afternoon in the parking lot next to City Hall.
Jargowsky said the city sent out nearly 10,000 reverse-911 calls to Sea Isle property owners to warn them of the storm. The city is also posting storm advisories on its website and through social media.
Most of the people calling City Hall during the storm are Pennsylvania residents who are worried about their vacation homes, Jargowsky noted.
Overall, the storm is shaping up so far to be “nothing no one’s seen many times before,” he said of Sea Isle’s lengthy history of coping with nor’easters.