Weather & the Seaside Fire

Posted: September 16, 2013, 11:27 am by tcollow

In less than a year’s time since Sandy tore through Seaside Heights, yet another disaster has struck the area. This time it wasn’t directly weather related, but the atmospheric conditions definitely magnified the disaster. Let’s discover how weather played an important role in the fire that tarnished the recently restored communities of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights.

The overall weather set-up on the 12th featured a vigorous cold front and associated thunderstorms pressing in from the west.  Ahead of the front, temperatures warmed well into the 80s at Seaside on a strong south to southwest wind gusting to 20 - 25 mph. Shortly after 2 PM, the fire broke out on the south end of the Fun Town Pier and with the unfortunate trajectory of the wind, the fire rapidly spread northeast from Seaside Park into Seaside Heights. Many hoped the approaching cold front and subsequent thunderstorms would help douse the fire, but most thunderstorm activity was still far away over central Pennsylvania and not expected to reach the coast until the evening hours.

There was some hope, however, as typically under this kind of weather regime, a few rouge thunderstorms tend to pop up ahead of the main batch. This is exactly what happened on the 12th, but unfortunately for Seaside, the storms occurred too far north. Take a look at the radar image below and notice the storms over northern Ocean and southern Monmouth counties. Had these storms developed 20 miles further south, their heavy rains would have aided firefighters and helped to prevent the fire from spreading. Also note the radar shows the smoke plume from the fire streaming northeast out of Ocean County.

NEXRAD Doppler Radar Image from KDIX at 5:06 PM courtesy of Plymouth State Weather Center.

 

As evening approached, the line of thunderstorms from PA finally reached Seaside, but rapidly weakened due to the loss of daytime heating. The weakened storms led to little if any precipitation across the area. Even though rainfall was minimal, the frontal passage still shifted the winds to the northwest. This wind trajectory subsequently pushed the blaze toward the ocean rather than up the boardwalk, helping to limit the spread of the fire shortly after 8 PM. A band of light rain did finally move up from the southwest around 10 PM, but by that time, the fire was nearly under control and the damage had been done.

Although weather did not create the fire, it certainly had an impact on how the fire spread and firefighting efforts. Regardless of when, the fire would have been tragic, but coming so soon after Sandy makes the disaster all the more upsetting. However, Seaside has shown its resiliance in the past and will certainly recover from this as well.

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