Sandy may not set records but it will make Shore history, experts say

Manayunk took a beating from Hurricane Irene, with severe flooding in the predictable locations last Aug. 28. The month set a rainfall record.
Manayunk took a beating from Hurricane Irene, with severe flooding in the predictable locations last Aug. 28. The month set a rainfall record. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 31, 2012

It remains to be seen if Hurricane Sandy will set any records, but weather experts say it will be among the storms that make history, especially at the Jersey Shore.

Its sheer size and its unprecedented beeline for the New Jersey coast already have set it apart from many of the region's notable storms, such as the especially destructive coastal storm of 1962, the "superstorm of 1993," and Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

As he looked at pictures from the Shore on Monday, Jon Nese, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, said he was most reminded of the famed March 1962 nor'easter that inundated the New Jersey coast. "Many communities along the Jersey Shore were literally rearranged by that storm," he said. In a book he wrote with Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz, The Philadelphia Area Weather Book, Nese included pictures of water in the streets of Wildwood and a Navy destroyer washed up on Long Beach Island.

That storm destroyed most of the boardwalks at the Shore, along with 4,000 houses in New Jersey and 1,500 in Delaware.

It also dumped seven inches of snow on Philadelphia, which was not particularly painful. "At the Shore, though, it was a disaster, and it took years for the Shore to recover," he said.

Christopher C. Burt, a weather historian for the website Weather Underground, said Sandy could be worse than the 1962 storm.

One that could compete with Sandy on size, he said, was the March 1993 "superstorm," a blizzard that attacked North America from Alabama to Canada. It was also notable because it set the record for the lowest barometric pressure in Philadelphia: 28.43 inches. Barometric pressure is a measure of the intensity of a storm. The lower the barometric pressure, the greater the storm's intensity.

This is a place where Sandy has a chance to make the record books.

John Feerick, an AccuWeather Inc. meteorologist, says Philadelphia's wind-speed record - 94 m.p.h. at Philadelphia International Airport during Hurricane Hazel - likely is safe. "I don't think we're going to see anything like that," he said.

Philadelphia has had rainier storms. Hurricane Floyd in 1999 dropped up to a foot of rain in the western suburbs. This region likely had worse flooding in August 2011, the rainiest month on record, with more than 19 inches of rain. The remains of Hurricane Irene arrived in that month.

The only previous hurricane to make a recorded landfall in New Jersey came ashore Sept. 16, 1903, Nese said. Records from the time, far less complete than those kept now, showed winds of 47 m.p.h. at Atlantic City. That Category 1 storm caused extensive damage.


Historic Storms

Sept. 16, 1903: The only previous hurricane known to make landfall on the New Jersey coast was this Category 1 storm. The wind was measured at 47 m.p.h. in Atlantic City

Sept. 14, 1944: A hurricane greatly affected the Jersey Shore without ever making landfall. The eye remained about 50 miles offshore. In Atlantic City, 21/2 miles of the Boardwalk were destroyed and wind speed reached 82 m.p.h.

Hurricane Hazel, Oct. 15, 1954: Winds reached 94 m.p.h. at Philadelphia International Airport - the record - and 80 m.p.h. in Harrisburg, Allentown and Reading. Less than an inch of rain fell in Philadelphia. This storm set the wind-gust record in New York City: 113 m.p.h.

March 5-8, 1962: A Nor'easter known as the Ash Wednesday storm, it destroyed 4,000 buildings at the Shore and 1,500 in Delaware, and is possibly the most damaging Jersey Shore storm ever. Almost all boardwalks were destroyed. Winds rose to 70 m.p.h. A Navy destroyer washed ashore on Long Beach Island. Philadelphia got seven inches of snow.

Tropical Storm Agnes, June 21-23, 1972: Only about 31/2 inches of rain fell in Philadelphia, but heavy rains upstream led to the worst flooding ever along the Schuylkill and the Susquehanna River. There were 48 deaths in Pennsylvania.

Nor'easter of Dec. 10-11, 1992: This also occurred during a full moon. There were record storm surges in Atlantic City. The highest was 13.94 feet at the Steel Pier on Dec. 11. Wind gusts of 80 m.p.h. swept through Cape May. Power was out for days and many trees went down in Pennsyvlania and New Jersey.

The Superstorm of March 13, 1993: It had the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in Philadelphia: 28.43 inches. This blizzard caused a record 318 weather-related deaths from Florida to Canada.

Hurricane Floyd, Sept. 15, 1999: 6.98 inches of rain fell in Philadelphia and up to a foot in the western suburbs. It was no longer a hurricane by the time it hit New Jersey.

August 2011: It set the record rainfall of 19.31 inches for a single month. Caused major flooding in the Philadelphia area.

SOURCES: John Feerick and Dave Dombek, meteorologists at AccuWeather Inc.; Jon Nese, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University; and Christopher C. Burt, a weather historian at Weather Underground.


Contact Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or sburling@phillynews.com.

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