Atlantic City and Cape May are poised for an upcoming 12-month stretch with more coastal flooding events than the previous year, all a continuing part of a trend with more days of closed roadways, cars that have to be moved and water inundation.
Between May 2020 to April 2021, Atlantic City is expected to have anywhere between eight and 14 high-tide flooding days, while Cape May is expected to have between six and 11. During the last coastal flooding year, Atlantic City had nine flood days, while Cape May saw 7, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Across the United States, the median average of coastal flooding was four days in the 2019 flooding year, just shy of the record set during the 2018 flooding year.
The administration released its annual State of U.S. High Tide Flooding, which include a recap of the 2019 flooding year (May 2019-2020), as well as an outlook for the May 2020 to April 2021 period.
The report, which was released earlier this month, specifically documents the change in nuisance flooding, which is also known as minor flood stage, typically when tides are 1.75 to 2 feet above the daily average high tide.
“America’s coastal communities and their economies are suffering from the effects of high tide flooding, and it’s only going to increase in the future,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.
NOAA forecasts that the peak season for coastal flooding will be during the fall. While nor’easters typically bring the most significant flooding during the winter, the minor, nuisance flooding days the report focuses on happen while the water temperatures are warmest.
“During the fall, you do have a change of seasons occurring, you tend to get more northerly winds. ... There’s an important seasonal cycle occurring as well,” said William Sweet, oceanographer, NOAA’s National Ocean Service and lead author of the report. “Sea levels are higher during the fall time, than the winter times. That’s on the order of a half foot. ... When the winds begin to really blow in September and October, the sea level heights are higher.”
The northeast Atlantic Ocean, which includes New Jersey, is already a hot spot for flooding. Compared with the rest of the country, the region has the highest likelihood of seeing the most number of coastal flooding events, between six and 11 days throughout the May to April reporting period.
“There’s a very wide, shallow continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean. The West Coast has a steep continental shelf. ... The East Coast has a high rate of sea level rise,” Sweet said.
NOAA scientists says a neutral El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which is based off of the waters around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, played a role in this forecast. However, this role doesn’t sway the forecast one way or another.
Rather, NOAA scientists say, climate change is a factor. About a third of sea level rise is due to the thermal expansion of the ocean. The warmer the waters, the more space the ocean occupies, creeping up the shoreline.
“Long term, we know that the sea level rise has been happening. We’ve seen that from NOAA over the years,” said Lou Belasco, floodplain manager for the city of Cape May. “From a flooding standpoint, we look to bolster our natural systems. We’ve looked to bolster the shoreline along the harbor front. If we can increase those wetlands and soak up some of the sea level rise, we can offset some of the losses,” he said, adding, “It’s a two-pronged approach. ... We also recognize that there are hardscape solutions that need to be done. There are areas that we look to raise the roadway, like on Yacht Avenue. We’ve had talks with the Army Corps of Engineers for Wilmington and Beach to raise the road there.”
The 2019 flooding year, from May 2019 to April 2020, saw water temperatures nearly 1.5 degrees above the 20th Century average between 60 degrees north and 60 degrees south latitude, continuing a positive streak seen each year since the late 1970s.
“The national takeaway is ... the underlying trend is accelerating,” Sweet said.
After a seasonable June, Atlantic City’s water temperatures have been running above average for much of July, with a 75 degree reading July 16, five degrees above the 70-degree average.
The forecast flooding events are both below the projections expected for 2030, where 20 to 35 days of high tide flooding is expected in Atlantic City and 15 to 30 days of flooding are expected in Cape May.
“It’s (minor flooding not from a storm) not something I remember as a kid. It happened hardly ever. Usually, flooding was associated with some kind of weather system,” Belasco said.
According to a Rutgers University report released in 2019, sea levels rose an average of 1.5 feet along the New Jersey coast from 1911 to 2019, compared with the global average of 0.6 feet.
The 2020 hurricane forecast increases again in July update
The July 7 Atlantic Hurricane season update from Colorado State University has another increase in the amount of tropical activity expected.
Including the fived named storms that occurred at the time of the July 7 update, which put the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season on a record breaking pace, CSU forecasts 20, named tropical storms or hurricanes to occur. That is an slight increase from the 19 last predicted in the June update. Out of the 20, 9 hurricanes and 4 major, category 3 or greater (at least 111 mph sustained winds) are forecasted, the same as the June update.
Updated seasonal #hurricane forecast from @ColoradoStateU— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) July 7, 2020
continues call for very active 2020 Atlantic #hurricane season. New forecast calls for 20 named storms (including the 5 that have already formed), 9 hurricanes and 4 major (Cat 3+) hurricanes. https://t.co/wIVwJdWMcO pic.twitter.com/OYOMcIIBDz
The 1981-2010 average of activity includes 12.1 tropical storms, 6.4 hurricanes and 2.7 major hurricanes, respectively.
There still remains an above average risk of a major hurricane making landfall on the East Coast of the United States, including the Florida Peninsula. The 45% chance is virtually unchanged from earlier updates On average, there has been a 31% probability in the last century.
CSU attributes warmer than average waters in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean, slightly warmer than average waters in the tropical Atlantic as reasons for the active forecast. Furthermore, a possible transition from a neutral El Nino Southern Oscillation to a La Nina late this summer would promote an active season. In a La Nina, there's a lack of wind shear, or change of winds with height, which can rip storms apart.
Tropical cyclone names rotate every six years. Exceptionally notable hurricane names, such as Sandy, become retired by the World Meteorological Organization. However, no names were retired in 2014, meaning 2020 will have the same list as then.
Arthur - Used
It's the sixth year in a row that a named tropical system has developed in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin before the June 1 official start.
Bertha - Used
Tropical Storm Bertha is the second tropical storm or greater storm to have formed in the Atlantic Hurricane basin before the official start June 1. This is only the sixth time since records have been kept in the 1700s that two tropical storm or greater storms have formed before the start.
Cristobal - Used
Dolly - Used
Dolly was the third earliest fourth named (D storm) storm in Atlantic Hurricane history, which goes back to 1851. It also flared up further north than any tropical storm before July 1 in recorded history, according to Sam Lilo, postdoctoral researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
#Dolly has formed in the North Atlantic - the 3rd earliest 4th Atlantic named storm formation on record (since 1851). Danielle is earliest on 6/20/2016. Debby is 2nd earliest on 6/23/2012 at 12 UTC. Dolly in 2020 formed on June 23 at 1615 UTC. #hurricane pic.twitter.com/1Ha6ZnxHqc— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) June 23, 2020
Edouard - Used
The Atlantic Hurricane season continued its blistering pace. Edouard, which developed July 6, was the earliest fifth named (with the letter "E") storm in Atlantic Hurricane history, which goes back to 1851. This is according to Philip Klotzbach, Meteorologist at Colorado State University, who issues a highly reputable hurricane forecast each year and is used by The Press.
The previous record was held in 2005 with Emily, which occurred on July 12. 2005 holds the record for the most active hurricane season on record in the Atlantic Hurricane basin, with 27 named storms.
However, all of the storms to this point have all been tropical storms. Some, like Edouard, likely would not have even been noticed before the satellite era, as they were out to sea and may have been missed by shipping routes.
Fay - Used
Tropical Storm Fay will go in the record books for multiple reasons.
- It is the tenth tropical storm or hurricane to make landfall in New Jersey since 1900.
- It made landfall just south of Holgate, on Long Beach Island, this is, incredibly, about ten miles away from where Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy made landfall, right near Brigantine.
- Fay was the earliest sixth tropical storm or hurricane to form in the Atlantic Hurricane basin, since records started in 1851. On other words, it was the earliest "F" storm on record.
Gonzalo - Used
Tropical Storm Gonzalo formed as a tropical depression July 21 and turned into a named storm July 22.
Hanna - Used
Tropical Storm Hanna formed Thursday, July 24. That put the 2020 hurricane season in a big lead over the 2005 hurricane season for the quickest, most active start. In 2005, Harvey formed on August 3, putting the 2020 season roughly two weeks ahead of 2005.
According to Retired National Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Eberwine, this was the first time in 22 that there have been eight tropical storms, without any hurricanes. However, its upgrade to a hurricane July 25 meant this streak was broken.
Isaias - In Progress
Isaias continues the blistering pace of the hurricane season, beating out the 2005 season. The "I" storm then, Irene, developed on August 7.
This also ties the record for the most number of July tropical systems in a month, at five.
Hurricane Irene would be retired by the World Meteorological Organization in 2011. The storm brought power outages to over 100,000 in South Jersey, a tornado in Vineland and nearly a foot of rain to the Wildwoods.