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U.S. Geological Survey hydrologic technician Patrick Bowen installing a storm-tide and wave sensor co-located with the U.S. Geological Survey continuous-record tide gage, 01409335, Little Egg Inlet near Tuckerton, NJ, on January 22, 2016. (Photograph by Michal Niemoczynski, U.S. Geological Survey)

01409335, Little Egg Inlet near Tuckerton, NJ, on January 22, 2016.

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Summary of Coastal Flooding in New Jersey Caused by
the Nor'easter, January 2224, 2016

Introduction

From January 22-24 2016, a historic Nor’easter produced large snowfall totals, damaging winds, and substantial coastal flooding from across the southern Appalachians through southern New England. Winds from the storm, combined with high astronomical tides, set the stage for significant tidal flooding along sections of the New Jersey coastline. Several near-record peak storm-tide elevations were recorded at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) continuous-record tide gages, with one gage recording a provisional period-of-record maximum.

This summary describes conditions preceding and during the Nor’easter. The locations of continuous-record tide gages with near-record and record peaks as well as hydrographs for selected gages are shown in illustrations. Provisional peak-tide elevations from continuous-record tide gages and tidal crest-stage gages are documented in a table.

Precipitation

Map of Snow fall totals for January 22-24

Figure 1. Screen capture of National Weather Service map of total observed snowfall in the Mid-Atlantic and New Jersey for 24-hour period ending January 24, 2016 at 0600 UTC. (National Weather Service, 2016b)


A low pressure system originating over Louisiana on January 21, 2016 developed into a major winter storm as it moved north along the eastern part of the United States. Significant snow accumulations occurred in all 21 counties in New Jersey. National Weather Service (NWS) storm total snowfall for New Jersey ranged from 13.4 inches recorded at Atlantic City International Airport in Atlantic County, to 30.6 inches in Randolph Township, Morris County (National Weather Service 2016a). A National Weather Service map of scaled snow precipitation for the 24-hour period ending January 24, 2016 at 0600 UTC (fig. 1) shows the distribution of snowfall from the winter storm across the State.

 

Antecedent Conditions

Astronomical spring tides occurred on January 10 and 24, 2016, with the full moon on January 24 coinciding with the timing of the Nor’easter. This contributed to higher than normal tides, which the storm’s strong onshore winds built upon. The timing of the storm was most pronounced on the first astronomical high tide the morning of January 23, 2016.

 

Peak Stage at Continuous-Record Tide Gages and Tidal Crest-stage Gages

Map of gages where new near-record peaks were recorded during January

Figure 2. Locations of continuous-record tide gages in New Jersey where new record or near-record tide peaks were recorded during Jan 22-24, 2016.


Hydrograph of Water-surface elevations at Cape May, NJ

Figure 3. Tidal water-surface elevations recorded by the USGS tide gage Cape May Harbor at Cape May, NJ (01411390) during the October 2012 and January 2016 coastal storms, with reference to the December 1992 storm.

Continuous-record tide gages experienced near-record and record maximum tide elevations during the Nor’easter (fig. 2). Provisional data recorded at the USGS tide gage Cape May Harbor at Cape May, NJ (01411390), indicates that the storm of January 22-24, 2016, produced a peak storm-tide elevation of 6.61 feet North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD88), which exceeded the period-of-record maximum set four years earlier during Hurricane Sandy.  The provisional peak-tide elevation of 6.61 feet NAVD88 on January 23, 2016, also exceeds the peak-tide elevation of 5.33 feet NAVD88 from the December 1992 Nor’easter at Cape May Harbor by about 1.3 feet (fig. 3).The high winds associated with this Nor’easter contributed to increased peak-tide elevations at many locations along the southern coast of New Jersey, specifically in the back bays. The temporary data from the Cape May USGS weather station (385655074532601) indicated sustained winds of over 40 miles per hour (mph), with gusts in excess of 50 mph, on January 23 in the morning hours near high tide. The National Weather Service reported a daily maximum wind speed of almost 60 mph at Atlantic City (National Weather Service, 2016c) on January 23, 2016 and the Weather Channel summarized the winds from this storm as exceeding 75 to 80 mph in Delaware and Virginia, with gusts in excess of 60 mph in New Jersey (The Weather Channel, 2016).

The USGS tide gage at Great Channel at Stone Harbor, NJ (01411435) recorded a provisional peak storm-tide elevation of 6.30 feet (NAVD88) and both the USGS tide gages at Ingram Thorofare at Avalon, NJ (01411355) and Ludlum Thorofare at Sea Isle City, NJ (01411350) recorded provisional peak storm-tide elevations of 6.44 feet (NAVD88). The USGS tidal crest-stage gages at North Wildwood and Strathmere recorded peak storm-tide elevations of 7.17 feet (NAVD88) and 6.99 feet (NAVD88) which were within 0.5 feet of the peaks recorded during Hurricane Sandy. Peak storm-tide elevations recorded at USGS tide gages further north along the back bays and coast of New Jersey were generally less than 6 feet (NAVD88). Hurricane Sandy’s impact along the northern coast of New Jersey in 2012 generated peak storm-tide elevations of greater than 10 feet (NAVD88) in many locations. Along the southern coast of New Jersey peak storm-tide elevations generated by Hurricane Sandy generally ranged from 5 to 8 feet (NAVD88). Provisional peak storm-tide elevations for selected USGS continuous-record tide gages and tidal crest-stage gages during the January 22-24, 2016 storm are provided in table 1.

 

Response to the Event

USGS personnel installing storm-surge sensor

Figure 4. U.S. Geological Survey hydrologic technician Brian Painter installing a storm-tide and wave sensor in Cape May, NJ, on January 21, 2016. (Photograph by Michal Niemoczynski, U.S. Geological Survey)


The USGS New Jersey Water Science Center Hydrologic Data Assessment Program prepared for fieldwork in response to the forecast of coastal flood conditions the week before the storm affected New Jersey. Five teams deployed 31 storm-tide and wave sensors in support of the Surge, Wave, and Tide Hydrodynamics (SWaTH) Network (fig. 4). The SWaTH Network is a network of pre-established coastal site locations from North Carolina to Maine that allows expedient deployment and recovery of short-term, event-based flood sensors and equipment. The Network was established after Hurricane Sandy to support model development and verification, detection of hydrologic trends, and provide early warning of hydrologic hazards. These sensors collected continuous high-frequency water-level data throughout the storm supplementing the existing network of continuous-record tide gages and tidal crest-stage gages. The USGS Water Science Center offices from Delaware to Connecticut coordinated their efforts to deploy a combined total of 125 storm-tide and wave sensors in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the East Coast. Data from these sensors, as well as locations and site information, are available online at the USGS Nor’easter of January 2016 Data Viewer (http://stn.wim.usgs.gov/noreasterjan2016/). Real-time tide elevation data are available from the New Jersey Water Science Center water data page (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nj/nwis/current/?type=tide).

 

 

 

References Cited

National Weather Service, 2016a, National Weather Service- Weather Prediction Center-Storm Summaries, accessed February 2, 2016, at http://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/winter_storm_summaries/storm1/stormsum_13.html

National Weather Service, 2016b, National Weather Service- National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center-Regional Snow Analyses, accessed February 2, 2016, athttp://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/index.html?region=Eastern_Coastal&year=2016&month=1&day=24&units=e

National Weather Service, 2016c, Climate Data, Preliminary Climatological Data for Atlantic City, NJ, January 2016: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, accessed January 28, 2016, at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/view/prodsByState.php?state=NJ&prodtype=climate

The Weather Channel, 2016, Winter News, Winter Storm Jonas: Record Coastal Flooding Strikes New Jersey, January 23, 2016: The Weather Channel, accessed January 28, 2016, at https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/winter-storm-jonas-high-winds-coastal-flood-threats

 

 

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