By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Kelly Lawson was shocked by the amount of damage to Sea Isle City’s beaches caused by big, frothy waves unleashed by Tropical Storm Ophelia.
Wave after wave pounded the shoreline Saturday afternoon all the way up to the dunes, completely submerging the beaches near John F. Kennedy Boulevard only a block from the downtown shops and restaurants.
“I think it’s worse than I thought it would be,” Lawson said of the storm. “The beach is literally not there anymore.”
Ophelia lashed Sea Isle with drenching rain, fierce winds that included gusts exceeding 60 mph and moderate flooding that left parts of Landis Avenue, Central Avenue and other streets underwater during the afternoon high tide.
Lawson, who has a summer home in Ocean View, said she enjoys spending her summer vacations in Sea Isle because of its beautiful beaches. She lamented that the storm has badly eroded some of those same beaches now.
Fortunately, Sea Isle is scheduled to receive a major beach replenishment project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this fall. The project had been scheduled well before Ophelia churned up the coast from the Carolinas before hitting the Jersey Shore.
The impacts of the storm are expected to linger into Sunday. A coastal flood advisory remains in effect until 9 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.
Mike Jargowsky, Sea Isle’s emergency management coordinator, said Ophelia added to the beach erosion that began last week when Hurricane Lee, though located hundreds of miles out to sea, stirred up rough surf and dangerous rip currents.
“This will do a number on us,” Jargowsky said of Ophelia and Lee’s one-two punch to the shoreline.
Although some streets were swamped with stormwater, Sea Isle’s flooding was not expected to be as serious as originally feared. Some meteorologists had predicted that the storm would cause major flooding, but Jargowsky said the flooding seemed to be moderate.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re not going to see a major tide. It will stay as moderate,” Jargowsky said of the 4 p.m. high tide.
The Townsends Inlet Bridge was closed to all pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic due to flooding on the Avalon side of the bridge. Sea Isle police asked motorists to adhere to the illuminated “Bridge Closed” signs and the barricades in place at the bridge.
Jargowsky attributed some of the flooding to the soaking rain that inundated local streets before draining off. He said all of the rain simply “didn’t have a place to go.”
Altogether, 2 to 4 inches of rain were forecast. Jargowsky said it appears Sea Isle received well over 2 inches of rain and possibly could end up with 3 inches by the time the storm ends on Sunday.
Strong winds whipped the rain throughout Saturday. The National Weather Service reported that Sea Isle had one wind gust of 62 mph.
Windblown sand stung some people in the face when they ventured out on the beach pathways to get a glimpse of the raging ocean.
“That is something, isn’t it? I’ve never seen it like this,” Brian Connolly, of Woodbury Heights, N.J., exclaimed of the big, white-capped waves.
Connolly’s sister, Kathy Lewis, and her husband, Steve, who live in Lansdale, Pa., also were amazed by the powerful surf as it crashed into the beach at JFK Boulevard.
“I’ve been coming to Sea Isle for 30 years and I’ve never seen it like this,” Kathy Lewis said.
Across town, Michelle Tenbrook was walking with two friends along Park Road to check out the storm. Tenbrook, who lives in Fort Myers, Fla., is renting a home in Sea Isle for a month-long fall vacation.
“Unfortunately, we’re here for some horrible weather. We’re hoping for a better day on Monday,” Tenbrook said of when the storm is expected to clear out.
Tenbrook formerly lived in Sea Isle for 19 years up until 2015. She had been living in Sanibel Island, Fla., before her home there was destroyed by Hurricane Ian in 2022.
As the winds from Ophelia began to pick up Saturday afternoon, Tenbrook joked that bad weather seems to follow her wherever she goes in Florida and New Jersey.
“I’m like Jim Cantore,” she said of the storm-chasing Weather Channel meteorologist.