Can New Jersey handle another Sandy?
Since Sandy made landfall in Atlantic County on Oct. 29, 2012, there have been plenty of reminders that New Jersey is not fully prepared to take on severe weather events.
Even this past week, tidal surges from the remnants of Hurricane Ian, which ravaged parts of Florida and the Carolinas, swallowed portions of New Jersey's coastline.
Experts and officials say the simple answer is, no, the Garden State is not completely ready to handle another storm similar to the size and strength of Sandy (which wasn't technically a hurricane when it came ashore). But the state is more prepared than it was 10 years ago.
This is the final segment of a five-day series honoring the 10-year anniversary of Sandy — its wrath, the rebuild since, and New Jersey's preparedness for future storms.
Part 1: What made Sandy so unique?
Part 2: NJ residents still fighting to get home
Part 3: Businesses forever changed by the storm
Part 4: Millions lost power, utilities still responding
"We've got to keep our foot on the gas, because we don't know how or when or where the next storm will strike us," Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, told New Jersey 101.5.
A network of solutions is necessary in order to protect New Jersey from the detrimental effects of climate change, LaTourette said. And many are underway, from civil works projects and dune restoration to Blue Acres buyouts of flood-prone properties and improving the systems that drain water from our communities.
"We've made lots of investments. We're still not quite ready for what's to come," LaTourette said.
In 2013, immediately after Sandy, dozens of projects were launched to reinforce beaches along the New Jersey coastline — a partnership between DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Extreme weather events will worsen over time, experts predict, as global warming contributes to sea level rise. Sea level along the U.S. coastline is expected to rise, on average, 10 to 12 inches, in the next 30 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
New Jersey and elsewhere are seeing more extreme rainfall in short periods of time, that infrastructure cannot handle, LaTourette added. Last September provided a prime example — the remnants of Ida resulted in major disaster declarations for residents, businesses and local governments in the counties of Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic, Somerset, Union, and Warren.
"We need to plan our communities better. We need to secure our assets in a more resilient way," LaTourette said.
As part of a Sandy-related event later this month, DEP will announce another step forward in a long-awaited plan to step up coastal flood defenses in Union Beach.
The multi-phase flood control project should be complete by 2030, according to Rob Keady, senior vice president of T&M Associates, the municipal engineer for Union Beach.
"The borough is not fully recovered," Keady said.
NJ vulnerabilities uncovered by Sandy
The devastation left behind by Sandy was an eye-opening reminder for New Jersey of the power of nature, said Jon Miller, research associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
Sandy, a post-tropical cyclone, actually delivered a blow to New Jersey that's similar to a category 3 or higher hurricane, he said.
"I think we're better off than where we were 10 years ago, but are we completely out of harm's way? No, I don't think we are," Miller said.
Part of a "series of smaller steps" to address storm protection, he said, is preventing new construction in areas that are vulnerable to the sea and bay.
According to Tom Herrington, associate director of the Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University, Sandy exposed the vulnerability of New Jersey's bayside communities. As of now, he said, not much has been done to address that issue, especially when you compare those investments to the investments made in protecting the open ocean coastline.
"There are plans and there are projects in the works, but we haven't been able to get to the implementation phase yet," Herrington said.
Ian hits New Jersey
Shore protections implemented since Sandy were put to the test for several days recently, as the coast was continually pounded by strong waves produced by Ian, the hurricane that crushed homes and roadways in the southeast.
From Monmouth to Cape May counties, dunes in select shore towns were carved into, resulting in steep drop-offs.
This was not good timing for a hit to storm protection infrastructure, Herrington said, as there's still plenty of "storm season" to weather. The Atlantic hurricane season runs through November.
“But the good news is the dunes are still there – they’re high and wide and still ready to provide protection to our coastal communities," Herrington said.