Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post Hurricane Sandy Report and Science

The feeling of being shell-shocked has not worn off, but my family, home, and animals are all okay.  Harley weathered the storm in the barn with his buddies.  The "unofficial" disaster plan was in place, which includes filling all spare containers with water, tying identification tags in the horses' manes, and securing all lose items on the farm such as barrels and cones.  Harley had his allergy medicine with instructions for emergency use, should the dust of the barn cause him problems.  I also thoroughly watered the walls and bedding of his stall as a preventative measure.  Thankfully, he was completely fine and already happily turned out by the time that I saw him on Tuesday.

As for our situation at home, we lost power before 2 pm on Monday.  This was before the hurricane even reached land, but we had been experiencing steady rain and some wind since late Sunday.  We were ready with our generator, flashlights, camping stove, and head lamps, which turned out to be very convenient.  Climbing the stairs to and from the second floor felt like spelunking, but it was worth it to have my hands free.  After losing power for 90 hours this summer, we still felt all too practiced, but thankfully we did not have to wait as long for the power to come back on.  School and my husband's work were cancelled Monday and Tuesday.  I received a call that school was closed again on Wednesday due to numerous power outages and flooding in some areas.  Power was restored to our home around 10 pm last night.

The worst part about the storm was the wind.  It did not rain nearly as much as expected, but the wind was very strong.  I can see why the builder installed "hurricane straps" on the frame of our house.  We did not sustain any damage, but the house was creaking in a rather unnerving manner early Monday evening and late Monday night into early Tuesday morning.  The eye must have passed over us between those two times, because the rain had all but stopped and the wind was minimal.  We set up the camping stove and made dinner around 6 pm Monday night.  Hurricane Sandy was one humongous storm with a huge eye, because that eerie calmness lasted for a couple hours.  We even went for a walk and counted how many people were running generators in our neighborhood.  It felt like the Derecho all over again, a powerful storm which downed many, many trees on June 30th.  Thankfully, the forest in our area was largely thinned due to that event, so there were not many trees down this time.  That must be why the power came back much more quickly, however, there is serious flooding and storm surge damage less than ten miles from where I live.  The clean-up for those areas has barely begun.

I am sure that whatever residual stress is dissipating for me and my husband is nothing compared to the stunned feeling that residents of the New Jersey barrier islands, northeastern coast, and New York City are experiencing.  I live very close to the barrier islands, but thankfully not on them.  Just to give you an idea, a twenty minute trip down the expressway is all that is required to arrive in Atlantic City.  Ocean City is not much farther and I used to work in Stone Harbor, which is at the end of the Garden State Parkway.  The Parkway actually has street lights when you drive that far south.  It took me forty-five minutes to drive to work.  I taught school groups about the ecology of the marsh and barrier islands.  The beach was literally my classroom.  Much to the children's delight, it was not uncommon to see dolphins jumping in the water on the horizon or an osprey or two soaring over the waves in search of fish.

The natural barrier islands protect New Jersey's salt marshes and coastline from the daily tidal cycle.  This past week, those islands protected many of us from Hurricane Sandy and a tsunami-like storm surge complicated by unfortunate timing of the spring tides, a super high tide created by the combined gravitational force of the Earth, moon, and sun.  Spring tides occur twice a month during the new moon and the full moon.  Normally, the larger high tide is held and absorbed slowly by the coastal salt marshes, which prevent the mainland from regular flooding.

There is and has been an on-going battle in New Jersey between land developers and conservationists regarding the preservation of the salt marshlands and barrier island dunes for longer than I have been around to learn about them.  Please allow me to generalize, so that I may explain the situation to you.  The importance of the salt marsh as a flood plain, not to mention the unique brackish water ecosystem which overlaps with the marine ecosystem, is used as fodder to argue that large sections of salt marsh should be preserved.  Land developers, in general, favor filling in and developing sections of marshland for profit, as coastline has many marketable features.  A similar battle occurs at the beach, which is on the barrier islands.  Obviously the existence of the boardwalks and shore towns, for which New Jersey is famous, indicate that not populating the barrier islands is out of the question, but, believe it or not, dune restoration is considered a debatable agenda item.  Ecologists and conservationists warn that the dunes must be preserved and restored with the systematic planting of dune grass, which helps to anchor the delicate dunes, in order to protect the rest of the barrier island.  Some owners of lucrative beachfront property complain that dune restoration projects decrease property values by blocking the ocean view and cite that conservationists are mainly concerned with the preservation of bird species like the piping plover.  Also, flat, sandy beach is accessible to tourists.  Lumpy, rolling dunes are not useable land, although I believe most beach-goers enjoy the dunes as acceptable landscape.

Personally, I think the dunes and marshes are beautiful.  I do not even mind the "earthy" smell of the salt-marsh and, of course, I understand and appreciate the importance of protecting the organisms that live there.  Despite this, I know rationally that we cannot save everything.  After all, I live in a house that was built on what used to be pine barrens, another native habitat in New Jersey whose use must be settled through litigation.  I even worked on a research project in college, with the intent of describing timber rattlesnake populations, so that their habitat might be preserved.  Just imagine how difficult it must be to convince developers and citizens that land should be preserved to protect a snake species, let along a rattlesnake species.  I respect the important role of this reclusive predator and I support its conservation efforts, and, yet, now I live on developed pine barrens.

I try to see both sides, to some extent, but I am admittedly "ecologically-biased".

That being said, there was a mad dash effort with bulldozers to further build up existing dunes when Hurricane Sandy's threat looked realistic.  I know that dunes are not going to survive or completely prevent the destruction that ensured along New Jersey's barrier islands from a catastrophic weather event.  A long-term approach is required.  This is the motivation behind the preservation of salt marshes and dunes, not to inhibit profit or assets.  Maybe the effects of this hurricane will change a few perspectives, just as they have changed the landscape.  There are no easy or simple solutions, but there is one certainly.  Mother Nature is not to be trifled with.

I wish all those well who are recovering in the storm's aftermath.

I took all of the following photos earlier this year.

The beach of Atlantic City, New Jersey in August 2012

A small section of Atlantic City's boardwalk, beach, and casinos (August 2012)
 
Dune sustaining grasses behind the Atlantic City boardwalk (August 2012)

The quiet boardwalk and grassy dunes of Ocean City, New Jersey in April 2012
 
The view from the end of the Ocean City boardwalk (April 2012): The regular spacing of the sparse grasses here suggests that a dune grass restoration project is in effect along these minimal dunes.  Some of the local high schools and colleges participate with their environmental and oceanography students.  Ocean City beach, like much of New Jersey's coastline, is decreasing in size due to erosion.

27 comments:

  1. Glad you're all OK - that must have been very scary.

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    1. Yes, but the anticipation was worse than the weather, at least this time.

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  2. Glad to hear you are ok.
    I spent the summer of 1982 working in Wildwood on a student visa and have many happy memories of the beach, the boardwalk and the town itself.
    Sad to hear today that Moreys Piers suffered a lot of damage but at least no loss of life

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    1. Well, isn't that interesting!

      The boardwalk and amusement rides at Wildwood are very popular. Wildwood's beach is unique in that it is one of the few beaches in New Jersey that is actually growing. Sand is deposited from beaches further north. If you visited the beach today, I bet you would be surprised how much further you would have to walk to reach the water!

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  3. Glad your ok. You can send any extra rain and water here.

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  4. I'm glad you and your fam/home/animals are okay. My thoughts go out to those who weren't as fortunate.

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    1. I was watching videos of Atlantic City and New York City. The flooding is unbelievable.

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  5. So glad that everyone is okay! I have seen the pictures and they are just awful! My thoughts are with every one over there!

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    1. The annual teacher's convention which is held in Atlantic City has been cancelled, which is extremely rare!

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  6. I was worried about all my blogging friends over where you are. So far you are all ok! I'm very happy. :)

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  7. Happy to hear that things are OK in your parts. What a doozy Sandy was!!!

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    1. Not fun. And this was the longest two-day work week of my life!

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  8. So glad to hear that you and Harley are safe and sound!

    My heart goes out to the coastal residents. This is just the beginning for them...

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    1. Thanks and right back at you and Val!

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  9. Very excellent news about how prepared you were and outcomes for horse,house and humans! Dodged that one.

    Loved your write up on preservation vs projects and developments. I'm with you, praying the storm will have positive ramifications on reality, and the clear necessity to preserve for future

    XO so glad you're alright!

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    1. Thank you for reading my lengthy explanation. It is really important and not always understood.

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  10. So glad you guys made it through okay. Sadly it seems that the crazy storm has been followed by crazy people. Stay safe out there!

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    1. Residents of the barrier islands have to be very careful of looters and unscrupulous individuals. Those types of people seem to follow crisis, as you mentioned.

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  11. Glad to hear you made it through with no major disasters. I love the beaches and the islands. We used to go to Fire Island all the time. Wonder how it made out in the storm.

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    1. Thanks. I am not sure about Fire Island, but most of them were hit pretty hard.

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  12. So glad to hear that all is well at your home. Here in California, many, many people are talking about the situation you Easterners find yourself in. We feel distraught and overwhelmed on your behalf. I hope your area recovers quickly and that life can return to normal.

    Hugs,
    Karen

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    1. Thanks so much Karen. I felt the same way when the wild fires were raging in California, Colorado, and Texas at different times over the past couple years. Natural disasters reveal how vulnerable we are in this world.

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  13. the preservation of the salt marshlands and barrier island dunes ... I so agree! Very informative post. Thanks.

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