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Dan Barone is no stranger to coastal storms. Still, Barone—an expert on the shoreline environment—was taken aback by Hurricane Sandy and particularly the havoc it created on Long Beach Island.
“Right now, it looks like a warzone,” says Barone, chief of geospatial analysis for Stockton College’s Coastal Research Center. “I was down there just two days ago taking pictures, doing some field work, and there were helicopters, military trucks, and just a lot of movement from everyone working to get the island cleaned up.”
For several years, Barone, 30, has been in charge of using geographic information about New Jersey’s coastline to measure, analyze and model changes to beaches and estuaries. Also, since 1984 his family has owned a home in Holgate at the south end of LBI—ground zero for the island’s storm-ravaged coast.
“There was no doubt in my mind that Holgate was going to get crushed. It’s one of the thinnest parts of the island, and so many of the beaches there have already been eroded away over time that there was very little protection from the waves,” says Barone, who spent the night of Sandy’s landfall at his year-round home in Haddon Township, fielding calls, responding to emails, and updating his Facebook account with information on Sandy’s progress.
“Even before the storm got there on Sunday night you had water rushing down Carolina Boulevard two blocks from my house,” he says. “Now there’s more than four feet of sand up and down the streets. The amount of debris is just unbelievable. The force of those waves blows your mind.”
The Barone family’s bayfront house in Holgate was erected after island building codes were updated, requiring homes in flood zones to be at least 10 feet above sea level. As a result, the damage to his property wasn’t particularly horrendous. The wooden back patio now resides in his boat slip, and the family’s dock was torn loose and carried across a nearby lagoon, but it could have been a lot worse.
On the other hand, many of the older homes around his were flooded, ravaged, or destroyed completely. One friend’s house on Inlet Road was lifted off of its foundation, carried by a wave, and smashed into a neighboring home.
“All that’s left of that house is a roof,” he says. “It’s really emotional to see this place where I spent a lot of my childhood just completely decimated.”
But the scientist in him is also fascinated by Sandy’s power. Until last month, Barone and his colleagues never thought they’d live to see a storm more powerful than the one that nearly destroyed the island in March 1962.
“All the science we had done up until now used the ’62 storm as a baseline for the worst-case scenario,” he says. “Sandy kind of pushed the reset button on that notion.”
On the bright side, Barone says damage to about three-quarters of the island wasn’t nearly as bad as it might have been, thanks to years of beach and dune replenishment initiatives as well as updated building codes.
“This storm probably had more energy than the 1962 event. But I think the reason not as many structures were lost is because we learned that you need to maintain your dune systems and beaches if you want to protect the structures behind them,” he says. “It could have been a lot worse if we hadn’t learned from 1962, and I think this storm is another wakeup call for us to keep preparing for the future.”
In an effort to help raise money for storm relief, Barone—a seasoned singer-songwriter as well as a scientist—recorded an original song, “Storm of ’62.” You can purchase the song at Cause.fm; all proceeds go to the American Red Cross.
Nick DiUlio is New Jersey Monthly’s South Jersey Bureau Chief. In addition to regularly contributing to the magazine, he has written for Slate.com, Miller McCune, Paste magazine, and numerous regional and lifestyle publications. He is also an adjunct teacher of magazine writing at Rowan University. Email Nick at email@example.com