Why storm surge is a problem for New Jersey

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Storm surge is a complex phenomenon that occurs when coastal water is pushed by powerful winds associated with hurricanes or tropical storms. High winds and low pressure created in the center of a hurricane or tropical storm cause water to accumulate.  As the storm moves toward land, it acts like a plow, causing the water to rise up like a wall.

Each cubic yard of seawater weights nearly one ton. As this water is pushed by the storm, the impact on property is devastating.

In a recent report from Core Logic, New Jersey ranked #4 in the nation for the number of homes and businesses at risk for damage from storm surge. The total number of homes that are at a moderate to extreme risk category is 471,353.

What makes New Jersey unique is how low its land is compared to the ocean level. This “near-shore elevation” allows storm surge waters to travel further inland.

Talk to anyone who lived on McArthur Ave in Sayreville NJ about the flooding they experienced during Superstorm Sandy. This area of Sayreville is over five miles from coastal waters found in Raritan Bay, however, this area is only eight feet above sea level. 

The Washington Canal joins the Raritan River and South River, creating an avenue for coastal water to reach this area.

Take a look at these photographs from Google Earth, comparing this area in 2010 to 2016 after Superstorm Sandy hit. The damage was so extensive that the government purchased properties from homeowners.

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While coastal areas are typically the hardest hit from storm surge, it is not just a costal issue. Core Logic highlights areas in the interior of NJ that can be impacted from storm surge as well

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The graphic from Core Logic assumes an impact from a Class Five hurricane, which some argue never happened in New Jersey. Historically, we have seen Class One to Class Three hurricanes impact our state.  Bear in mind Superstorm Sandy was officially considered a Tropical Storm when it made landfall in New Jersey.  But the storm was so large it had the power of a Class Three hurricane.

Sandy was a sobering event for many who were impacted. One of our clients had a home that was a few blocks from a high hazard flood zone.  We recommended he purchase flood insurance, but he declined.  When he called us after the storm, the waters surrounding his home were over fifteen feet deep.

Does everyone need to be concerned about storm surge? No.  The home I grew up in was 131 feet above sea level; my current home is nowhere near a body of water and is 69 feet above sea level.  But if you live in low lying areas of our great state you need to carefully cosider how you could be impacted.  You can use Google Earth or Google Earth Pro (which is free) to see where your home or property is located with respect to sea level.

You can call your insurance agent or insurance company to find out if your property is in or near a high hazard flood zone.

The National Hurricane center has a National Storm Surge Hazard Map that can help you better determine how a storm surge can impact your property.

As we enter hurricane season, it is important to recognize and address the hazards you might face.


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Scott Harrigan, CIC, CRM

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