It's been a roller coaster of a winter season so far from single digit temperatures Christmas weekend to highs in the 50's and 60's to open up 2023, and curious as that may be, comes some concern for how the temps and weather conditions are impacting our Jersey Shore beaches.

Tom Herrington, Associate Director at Monmouth University's Urban Coast Institute, explains that there are a few areas of concern across Ocean and Monmouth County after some big waves in the fall have caused some shorter looking beaches.

"The beaches, particularly in Monmouth and Ocean County, are what we would consider in their winter state, they're narrower, lower because of larger storm waves that occur in the fall," Herrington said. "In particular, we have a couple of hotspot areas that we're concerned about, in terms of erosion, Ortley Beach in particular in (Toms River) Ocean County, Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach and a little bit of the Elberon section of Long Branch are more eroded than usual, but, they're kind of our hotspots, when we get a coastal storm like we had in October, we tend to see those areas erode quicker than the surrounding areas."

(Photo: Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Beach during the summer in Long Branch. (Photo: Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)

Dr. Stan Hales, Director of the Barnegat Bay Partnership, explains that following a mild winter last year that still produced 8-10 weather events resulting in significant erosion, has since led to some concern for this winter with what the water could do in storms both large and small.

"I won't say the worst is yet to come, it's hard to say with the changing weather, but we do know that sea level continues to rise and with a rise in sea level over time, it takes fewer extreme events to create the level of erosion that we've seen in the past," Hales said. "We have higher water more regularly now and that does contribute to additional erosion events."

(Vin Ebenau,Townsquare Media)
Barnegat Bay (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media)

The erosion to beaches across the Jersey Shore is one of the more utmost concerns facing the local environment right now even with the protection of sand dunes.

"There's a lot of sand in the system, the dunes are pretty strong in many, many areas, so, it's just being able to weather a series of storms for instance that may come back-to-back so that you have that protection throughout the entire winter season," Herrington said. "What would concern me now is the kind of weather pattern we're entering into where we have these very strong storm systems coming in from the west coast and eventually those storm systems reach the east coast and, in some cases, can redevelop into significant coastal storms."

Pavilion Beach in Monmouth Beach
Pavilion Beach in Monmouth Beach (Bud McCormick)

It's really what types of storms and how many of them come through the Jersey Shore this winter, Herrington explains, and hopefully by the spring things will be in good shape.

"Once we get through April into May, then the beaches start to naturally recover as we begin to enter the summer season," Herrington said.

Island Beach State Park 10/4/22
Island Beach State Park 10/4/22 (NJ DEP)

The weather in the winter, especially when it gets warm, can not only bring surging storms, sea level rise, and beach erosion to communities across Monmouth and Ocean County, but, to plants and marine life.

"We live in the temperate zone and one of the things that the temperate zone is characterized by is greater annual change," Hales said. "We have winters almost as cold as they have at the poles (north and south), we have summer heat waves that are almost as warm as those seen in the tropics, so, we have tremendous seasonal variations, we have a greater range of temperatures and weather variations than you see in some other places where it's always colder or generally warmer."

As a result, Dr. Hales explains that these weather variations are what bring certain animals to the Jersey Shore.

Photo by Justin Louis
Photo by Justin Louis

"Winter and summer events affect the distribution and interactions of animals," Hales said. "We're seeing more southern species in New Jersey, for example, we're seeing southern pine beetle in the Pine Barrens, and it doesn't have very low temperature tolerance, but, with warmer winters, we're seeing the beetles spread through the pine barrens and cause extensive to the forests."

Dr. Hales explains that mild weather aids some things more than others as does the typical winter weather, and, if things keep changing between those two extremes, things are at risk.

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