Oceans

New Jersey ocean temperatures remain cold due to upwelling

Surf temperatures at the Jersey Shore should be approaching their annual peak about now, but on Thursday afternoon they were more appropriate to October than the hottest period of the year.

And they could stay that way into the weekend, said Cameron Wunderlin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Mount Holly.

“We’ve just been seeing really strong upwelling,” he said, referring to what happens when the warmer surface layers are replaced by the colder waters below.

» READ MORE: The heat wave, which is related to the upwelling, has been blamed for at least five deaths

This one got underway last week when the water temperatures off Atlantic City dropped from 77.7 degrees to 64.6 degrees in a 12-hour period from late on July 19 into July 20, then plummeted to 56.5 last Friday.

Temperatures rebounded somewhat during the weekend afternoons but have been hovering just above 60 degrees most of the time since Monday, according to the government’s official gauge. Normal for late July is 70 degrees, a level not reached since that night of the 19th.

“This is as long as I can remember temperatures like this,” said Jim Eberwine, longtime weather-service marine specialist who is now the emergency management coordinator for Absecon.

» READ MORE: The heat wave is generating cold waves at the Jersey Shore as ocean temperatures take a plunge

The upwelling event was set off by the same winds from the south that baked the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in the most intense heat wave of the season, which finally broke on Tuesday. Philadelphia set two temperature records and so far at least five heat-related deaths have been reported.

Those steady winds from the south, working in tandem with the spin of the earth chased the top warm layers farther offshore, making the cold water below an unwelcome summer replacement, said Michael Crowley, with the Rutgers University Center for Ocean Observing Leadership.

» READ MORE: How big is the Wildwood beach? Big enough for field hockey.

Upwelling events are common, pointed out Andrew Allegra, with the National Centers for Environmental Information. “We see this every summer at the Atlantic City location,” he said. And the chill isn’t record-level: Eberwine said surf temperatures dropped to 49 degrees during the blistering summer of 1988.

But this one has been particularly vigorous and persistent, Eberwine added.

After that break Tuesday as the winds took a northern turn, the heat has made a modest comeback, and winds have been blowing from a more southern direction again.

Eberwine noted that surf temperatures were also below normal off the coasts of Long Island and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The winds are due to reverse direction again by Saturday with the passage of a front, but don’t expect the waters to respond immediately, said the weather service’s Wunderlin. Even with Tuesday’s cool-down and wind shift, the surf remained chilly.

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Water responds more ponderously to changes than does the air, said Wunderlin, so it is possible the surf will remain on the cool side Saturday, and perhaps even Sunday: “It could take a few days.”

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