Assessing Hurricane Sandy's Damage to the New Jersey Coast

Seasideheights1-njSeaside Heights. Photo: Google/NOAA

After Hurricane Gloria damaged the New Jersey coast in 1985, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to estimate the coastal effects of the storm. The state agency wasn’t sure, because they didn’t have an accurate baseline. “I mean, they had some Polaroid pictures, and that was it,” says coastal researcher Dr. Stewart Farrell. “They had no data, no surveys, no map, no nothing.”

Farrell put together a proposal to start surveying the coast, got the go ahead, and founded the Coastal Research Center at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in 1986. He has conducted coastal surveys every spring and fall since. By late October, he was nearing the end of the 2012 fall monitoring. “But Sandy hit,” he says. “Now we’re going back and seeing how much dune and beach are missing, because somebody’s gotta come up with a number for how many cubic yards of sand we’re going to need to fix things.”

Every morning since the hurricane struck, Farrell has driven and walked the coast to survey the damage. That includes weekends. So far, he’s captured Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean counties. His groundwork will be combined with aerial surveys and computer models that offer a fuller sense of the damage, but even right now the effects of the storm are clear. “It’s the worst event in my career, which goes back to the 1960s,” he says.

We called up Farrell this past Friday afternoon, after he returned from surveying damage in the borough of Avalon, to find out more.

Filed To: Science, Nature

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