Irene Wasn't a Hurricane When it Hit N.J., Report Says
The shore received a lashing, but North Jersey—including Essex County—took the brunt.
Hurricane Irene would have been the first hurricane to make landfall in New Jersey in more than a century, had it actually been packing hurricane-strength winds at the time.
But by the time Irene rolled ashore at Little Egg Inlet in southern Ocean County, its wind speed had already decreased to 69 m.p.h.—a full 5 m.p.h. short of hurricane strength—meaning it was actually just a tropical storm.
The new findings were released Dec. 14 by the National Hurricane Center, the latest of equivalent post-mortems the agency has posted on every other storm of the 2011 hurricane season. Every year, the hurricane center releases "tropical cyclone reports" on each named storm after hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
The report said a storm surge of 3 to 5 feet along the state's shoreline caused moderate to severe tidal flooding with extensive beach erosion, but not surprisingly, the bulk of the damage caused by Irene was in the northern counties due to river flooding.
"The most severe impact of Irene in the northeastern United States was catastrophic inland flooding in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont," the report stated.
The report said it was "surprising" that Irene weakened significantly between the Bahamas and North Carolina, never to regenerate on its eventual trek northward toward New Jersey. Hurricane center meteorologists believe that after the storm's inner eyewall eroded near North Carolina, Irene did not act as most storms typically do, and contract at the outer eyewall, allowing for restrengthening.
"Instead, Irene’s structure was characterized by a series of rainbands, resulting in a broad and diffused wind field that slowly decayed," the report said.
According to the hurricane center, reports indicate that Irene was directly responsible for 49 deaths: five in the Dominican Republic, three in Haiti, and 41 in the United States. In the United States, six deaths were attributed to storm surge, waves or rip currents; 15 to wind, including falling trees; and 21 to rainfall-induced floods.
The storm caused $7 billion in property damage, the report said.
Locally, Fairfield residents and businesses in the Passaic River basin were devastated by flooding which resulted from Irene. The federal government declared Essex County a disaster area, and U.S. President Barak Obama landed at Essex County Airport in Fairfield on his way to tour Paterson after viewing the aftermath from a helicopter.
A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the National Hurricane Center's website.