ENVIRONMENT

Strongest Hurricane Season Since Sandy Expected This Year

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

Hear that roar? It’s the great Atlantic Ocean weather engine revving up. Climate experts warn there’s a 70 percent chance it could crank out more hurricanes than originally forecast — possibly the strongest season since 2012, which spawned Sandy. It’s not what owners of the Surf Shack in Manasquan wanted to hear.

“It’s just it’s horrible,” Rocca Zimmerman said “You seen how close we are to the beach. Even on a normal day during high tide here we get water.”

The new 2016 hurricane forecast expects 12 to 17 named storms this season, five to eight of them hurricanes and two to four of those major hurricanes. Compare that to an average year of 12 named storms, six hurricanes, including three major ones. Heat has a lot to do with it.

“It’s just too hot to sit on the beach today. I’m sweating,” said Allendale resident Olivia Annitti.

It’s 100 degrees on the sand, but we’re talking water temperatures — only 73 here in Manasquan, but topping 80 degrees in Atlantic City and Cape May, lately.

“You need enough warm water to evaporate enough water vapor into the atmosphere and that serves as fuel for the hurricanes. So, the hurricane season is in the summer and fall when the ocean is the warmest,” Alan Robock said.

In fact, satellite photos show how Hurricane Sandy grew explosively when it crossed warm Gulf currents one day before making landfall as a tropical storm in New Jersey. And with less wind shear to blow away their tops, hurricanes can grow larger. Weaker winds also keep ocean waters warm by keeping colder water out of the mix, explains Rutgers’ Olaf Jensen.

“When colder water from the bottom gets pushed up to the surface by winds and cools the surface water. So that hasn’t been happening as much this year as in the past,” said Jensen.

What does that mean? “Well, for fish in particular, it means they have to move. People sweat, dogs can pant, but all fish can do is move when it gets too hot,” he said.

He says, New Jersey fisheries that depend on fluke and black sea bass have found fish simply moved north, to cooler, more comfortable water.

“The charter fleets have taken a huge hit. They’re still recovering from Sandy in many cases and to have this on top of that is just devastating for the industry,” Jensen said.

Here’s one more sting — swimmers who report seeing lots more jellyfish can blame the heat, too. Zimmerman can take the jellies — it’s the storms she’s scared of. Sandy destroyed her shop.

“Everything was just all over the place. It was destroyed, it was bad. We had sand in here, 5 feet of water. It was pretty bad,” Zimmerman said.

The National Weather Service retired the name Sandy. The next Atlantic storm will be named Fiona. People down the shore are hoping it doesn’t visit here.