Saturday morning brings some classic winter weather for Ocean City: snow turning to rain and steady northeast winds. And whenever the wind and rain conspire with the tides, there's a good chance that a lot of that water will flood the streets on an island as elevation-challenged as Ocean City.
A new tool can help determine just how bad each coming flood will be: a gauge set up at the that delivers real-time readings of tide levels and water temperature.
See and bookmark the tide gauge
Flood watches are a fact of life in Ocean City with a lot at stake, as anybody who has lost a car to saltwater damage will tell you.
While the new tool measures only current data and does not provide a forecast, it allows users to see a developing trend in tide heights. The web-based reports also let nonresident property owners keep tabs on Ocean City floods from afar.
The solar-powered gauge was installed on May 3, 2011, at the Bayside Center between Fifth and Sixth streets on the bay side of Ocean City, the part of the island where land elevations are generally lowest and flood risks highest (the lowest point is actually a trough roughly centered on Haven Avenue). The gauge is operated as part of the New Jersey Tide Telemetry System and funded by the state and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Ocean City's Engineering Department is working to link to the real-time tide readings from its web page at ocnj.us, according to Ocean City Engineer Art Chew, who made note of the tide gauge at a December meeting of the Ocean City Community Association when he spoke about .
Chew provided one key to understanding the tide readings reported on the new web site: a chart showing some historic high tides. The chart is attached to this story as a PDF.
The tide readings are based on 1988 datum, which is the first column of the attached chart. The chart shows some historic high tides as benchmarks:
- A theoretic "100-year storm" tide would be 8.75 feet (above a normal mid-tide)
- The Dec. 11, 1992 storm was 7.2 feet
- The 1944 hurricane was 6.65 feet
- The famous March 1962 nor'easter was 6.35 feet
- Hurricane Gloria in 1985 was 5.75 feet
The new tide readings retain all data since it started on May 2011, and a search for the tide level during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 shows just 4.8 feet on the Saturday night (Aug. 27) when the storm was approaching Ocean City. What was then thought to be a hurricane made a near direct hit on Ocean City, but the storm had lost strength on its journey up the East Coast.
An Oct. 29, 2011, nor'easter saw a tide of 4.43 feet, according to the new data.
When visitors access the site linked above, they'll see a line graph for high and low tides. The midpoint labeled 0.0 feet is the level for an average mid-tide. Forms on the site let users change the date range and output format for the data.
The site also includes data for water temperature. The readings for Friday, Oct. 19: a bay temperature of 39 degrees and a high tide of about 3.5 feet.