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Beach Bummer: Not Enough Sand Ahead Of Memorial Day

After a storm wiped out a massive amount of sand on the Jersey Shore, some beaches were left with cliffs as tall as 6 feet.

Summer is coming — but one part of the beach on the Jersey Shore won’t be opening anytime soon.

AccuWeather meteorologists forecast temperatures in the 90s for areas along the East Coast this weekend. The summer weather makes people eager to grab their towels and head to the beach.

But due to a recent storm that stalled off the East Coast earlier this month, some beaches along the Jersey Shore don’t have enough sand to accommodate beachgoers.

The Jersey Shore encompasses about 141 miles of beaches bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Tourism is the economic lifeline for many of the beach towns. Each time a coastal storm rolls through, residents of Ortley Beach, roughly 45 miles north of Atlantic City, are reminded of the ongoing erosion eating away the beach and damaging dunes throughout the barrier island.

While the erosion on Ortley Beach is not a new problem, the recent May 14 coastal storm that washed away homes in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and exposed “ghost tracks” on a beach in Cape May, New Jersey, also wiped out a massive amount of sand along the 4,000-foot-long beach and left cliffs as tall as 6 feet.

Robert Chanklian, Toms River, N.J., town engineer, explains ongoing erosion at the Jersey Shore. (AccuWeather)

The high tide reached to the base of the cliffs, and as waves continue to come crashing down, more of the beach eroded. Drone footage shot this week from above Ortley Beach showed lengthy cliffs carved out by heavy surf kicked up by the recent coastal storm.

“After the Army Corps [of Engineers] came out, they had built us a nice, flat beach, and that’s very good for energy dissipation,” Robert Chanklian, the Toms River town engineer, told Jillian Angeline,  AccuWeather national reporter. “As the waves roll gently up a beach, their energy is dissipated. As the storm erodes the sand and ends up with these vertical surfaces, the waves, instead of giving up the beach, they pound into this and create more erosion.”

The storms that create significant coastal erosion along the Jersey Shore typically occur in the winter months, according to Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill. This allows officials ample time to clean up and rebuild the beaches and dunes before the warmer months to accommodate beachgoers.

Ortley Beach officials said they must rebuild the beach and surrounding dunes on the closed section of Ortley Beach before reopening, as it poses a fall hazard. And officials say the replenishing won’t happen quickly.

While a combined effort from local engineers and the Army Corps will be needed to fully restore the beaches along the Jersey Shore from erosion, a local contractor has been hired to rebuild the section of Ortley Beach. Workers will bring in truckloads of sand to fill the beach and surrounding dunes. Officials estimate the damaged area will be filled by the end of June, in time for the beginning of local schools’ summer vacation.

The Army Corps will then come to the beach later in the year, or early next year, to further address the erosion as part of a federal, state and locally funded, 50-year agreement to upkeep the beach. Crews from the Army Corps will have the horsepower to rebuild the beach, so the small refilling project won’t be needed as often, said Chanklian.

“They use a dredge,” he said. “It scours up the sand, sucks it up like a vacuum, pumps it onto the beach, and then as they pump that slurry of sand and water on the beach, the water runs down, and we’re left with sand.”

Avalon Beach, New Jersey, suffered significant coastal erosion during the May 14, 2022, storm. (Dan Beards/Flickr)

Ortley Beach was not the only town impacted by the recent storm. Beaches in Avalon, about 67 miles south of Ortley Beach, were left with cliffs after strong waves ate away at the beach. Similar scenes were spotted in nearby Ocean City, as well.

A team at Stockton University Coastal Research Center has been tasked with surveying the damage along the Jersey Shore. Evan D’Ambrosio, a field specialist, shared a photo of the massive cliffs lined along Avalon Beach.

A photo of the cliffs lined along Avalon Beach after a severe mid-May storm. (Evan D’Ambrosio)

“That’s the most substantial damage I’ve ever seen since I’ve been working for four or five years now,” is how D’Ambrosio described the recent erosion.

D’Ambrosio is part of a team that will deliver the damage assessment survey results to the impacted towns. This will help give officials a better idea of how much work will be needed to repair the beaches and surrounding dunes.

Rebuilding the dunes is crucial ahead of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season, which is predicted to be an above-normal season, according to AccuWeather’s veteran meteorologist and hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.

“The beaches are nice to have, but the dunes are what we need to protect everything,” said Hill. “This dune is going to protect the coastline, and that’s what’s important.”

Jillian Angeline, AccuWeather national reporter, stands next to cliffs left in the sand at Ortley Beach, New Jersey, after heavy surf from a recent coastal storm devoured the town’s beaches. (AccuWeather) 

Sand dunes protect inland areas from storm surges and large waves propagating inland, which in turn, reduces the amount of coastal flooding and structural damage in an area. Coastal areas without dunes are more susceptible to higher rates of erosions and more frequent flooding.

Along with restoring the dunes, the reopening of beaches along the Jersey Shore is vital for many business owners. Tourism at the Jersey Shore is key for the New Jersey economy. Many business owners along the shore depend on vacationers visiting during the summer months to make their income for the year. With beaches being closed, they could take a hit in their earnings.

Additional reporting by Jillian Angeline.

Produced in association with AccuWeather.

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