High winds rattle battered Shore

Employee Jeremy Robinson of Deerfield has to fight the strong winds as he struggles to bring in a shopping cart at the MillvilleTarget store on March 6, 2013. (Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer)
Employee Jeremy Robinson of Deerfield has to fight the strong winds as he struggles to bring in a shopping cart at the MillvilleTarget store on March 6, 2013. (Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 07, 2013

High winds, rain, even thunder and lightning, lashed New Jersey's coastal counties Wednesday afternoon as a powerful nor'easter pounded a region still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.

A high wind warning - meaning gusts in excess of 60 mph - had been issued by the National Weather Service, and forecasters were proved correct as power lines were downed from Monmouth County south through Cape May County, leaving about 50,000 homes and businesses without electricity in the four coastal counties, utility officials said.

"It's not over yet; nobody should let their guard down with this one," said David A. Robinson, the state's climatologist and a professor of geology at Rutgers University.

Robinson said it was unlikely this storm will wreak the havoc of Sandy, but it could be "up there" with excessive winds and tides, which could mean even more property damage on top of the $38 billion created by Sandy, which hit Oct. 29.

"It's a duration thing," noting that high tide cycles all the way until Saturday morning could make things dicey at the Shore.

On Wednesday, along Stone Harbor Boulevard in Middle Township, the causeway between the mainland and the Cape May County resort of Stone Harbor, the sustained northeasterly gusts had brought down more than a dozen utility poles, pulling power lines to the ground and closing the roadway to traffic.

About 25,500 Atlantic City Electric customers were without power in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties at various times throughout Wednesday afternoon, and 17,000 homes and businesses served Jersey Central Power & Light Co. also lost power, officials said.

A 65 mph gust had been reported in Cape May; 61 mph gust hit Ocean City, and a 47 mph gust in Wildwood was recorded. Even inland, at the Millville Airport in Cumberland County, a 51 mph gust was reported, the weather service said.

Though no serious problems with flooding had been reported by late afternoon Wednesday, municipal officials up and down the coast said still concerned about the next high tide that would occur between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Thursday, as the biggest storm to hit New Jersey since Sandy was churning along the beaches.

Some communities, including Toms River, Brick Township and Long Beach Township, issued a voluntary evacuation for waterfront homes. The areas were all hard-hit by Sandy.

Officials said it was likely that flood-prone roadways, such as the Black Horse Pike in the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township, Bay Avenue in Ocean City and Beach Avenue in Cape May, would be underwater during the high tides.

Concerns also centered on back-bay areas of coastal towns such as Ocean City and Atlantic City, where tide and flood waters could "pile up" and fail to drain because of sustained northeast winds during multiple high tide cycles, said Gary Szatkowski, the National Weather Service's chief meteorologist in Mount Holly.

Residents in those areas were being urged to move vehicles to higher ground. The state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority suspended parking fees at its Wave Garage until March 8 at 8 a.m.

Public works crews in Ocean City and Atlantic City had spent Monday and Tuesday securing beaches because forecasters predicted that tides in this storm could exceed 8 feet in Atlantic City and nearly 9 feet in Cape May, which were record levels set during Sandy in October.

The Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the Cape May-Lewes Ferry canceled four scheduled departures between New Jersey and Delaware on Wednesday afternoon and evening because of the high wave and wind conditions on Delaware Bay.

It was anticipated that normal ferry operations would resume Thursday, said T.J. Murray, a spokesman for the authority.

Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at philly.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.

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