New Jersey is the fifth smallest US state, yet it’s the most densely populated state in the country. The Garden State boasts some of the most beautiful beaches, stunning scenic views, and diverse culture, among other things.
This is the place where you can experience all four seasons. And while experiencing a variety of climates is amazing, it doesn’t come without the price of the natural disasters that inevitably follow.
What natural disasters does New Jersey have?
New Jersey’s most common natural disasters include severe storms, tropical storms and hurricanes, floods, winter storms, wildfires, extreme heat, drought, landslides, and power outages. Other less significant disasters include earthquakes, tornadoes, and tsunamis. Between 1953 and 2019, New Jersey declared 51 major disasters, of which severe storms and hurricanes happened the most according to FEMA.
1. Severe Storms
Due to the state’s climate, thunderstorms are some of New Jersey’s most popular disasters. Thunderstorms always include lightning, which is what makes them so dangerous. In New Jersey, you can also expect to experience strong winds and hail. Although these storms occur all throughout the year, they happen most often near the end of spring and the beginning of fall — typically March through October — when the weather is warm. Being the seasons that people spend more time outdoors is also what makes lightning especially threatening since a bolt can strike several miles in the distance and cause injury or death. New Jersey ranks 35th highest among all fifty states when it comes to the number of lightning-related fatalities.
One of the worst storms in recent history occurred on August 7, 2019. Several counties throughout the state were hit by fierce thunderstorm winds that were strong enough to rip bricks off of buildings, uproot trees, power lines, and leave drivers stranded in their vehicles. These winds produced tornadoes and delivered hail that was over an inch in diameter. Some cities reported having received over 5 inches of rain in a single day!
Storms of this magnitude do not occur all the time, but as you can see, they are possible. It’s important to stay updated with the weather report to ensure that you’re safe during the passing of the storm. If a thunderstorm is forecasted, be sure to reschedule any outdoor activities and remain indoors until the threat of the storm is over. Lightning can be conducted through water and metal, so make sure to steer clear from touching any metallic object that is connected to the ground (including a landline phone) as well as water (such as running faucet). For more mitigation and preparedness tips, be sure to check out our complete guide on severe storms!
2. Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Major hurricanes occur less frequently than tropical storms do, but they can be costly and life-threatening either way. New Jersey rarely gets hit directly by hurricanes, but it often receives the remnants. Nor’easters, similar to hurricanes with the exception that they thrive on cold water, are also commonly experienced. Coastal regions are obviously at the highest risk, but because of the size of New Jersey and the magnitude of some storms, the entire state is vulnerable to its devastating damages. Like many disasters, tropical storms and nor’easters are multi-dimensional, meaning that they cause flooding, power outages, widespread destruction, loss of property, injuries, and possible loss of life.
One of the worst and costliest hurricanes to make landfall in New Jersey was Superstorm Sandy which entered the state with sustained wind speeds of 80 mph, making it a Category 1 storm. Sandy extended 900 miles wide in diameter, brought in a storm surge of up to nine feet, destroyed infrastructure, homes, trees, power lines, and killed more than 30 people in New Jersey alone. Sandy affected multiple US states, Jamaica, and Cuba and resulted in billions of dollars worth of damages.
Tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes are certainly going to continue occurring in New Jersey. It’s without question that you should become prepared for them, especially if you live near the coast. There are several ways to retrofit your home to mitigate potential damage, but ultimately your safety and well-being are of utmost priority. When storms are forecasted, you should be prepared to evacuate to a designated safety area. Have an emergency kit stocked with the essentials to sustain you and your loved ones until it is safe to return home. Be sure to include your important documents and valuable items that may otherwise be impossible to recover. Click here for our complete guide on hurricane preparedness, and remember to grab the free checklist at the end!
New Jersey has a mean elevation of 250 feet and its highest point is 1,803 ft. Unfortunately, this is what makes the state highly susceptible to floods. Some sources say that the state is slowly sinking due to the land's ongoing subsidence, global warming, and rising sea levels. If this is indeed the case, more inland cities will become threatened by future floods and storms. At the present moment, it’s expected that the rising sea levels will expose an estimated 33,000 to 58,000 buildings to the risk of flooding by 2050.
One of the deadliest floods in New Jersey’s recorded history was the Delaware River Flood of August 1955. Hundreds of homes, buildings, crops, livestock, and other infrastructure suffered the accumulation of several days of heavy rainfall. Some places received up to 20 inches of rain. In the end, 191 people lost their lives to this event.
With the probability of flooding on the increase, the residents of New Jersey should carefully consider retrofitting their homes to mitigate future events. It would be even more important to put together an evacuation kit and discuss a plan with every member of the household. Events like these will continue to occur, and it will make all the difference in the world whether we’re prepared for them or not. Learn flood safety tips on our guide!
4. Winter Storms
The upper East Coast is known for its chilly winters, and New Jersey is no exception to that. Winter weather typically starts to creep in around October and will last well into April, usually bringing with it an average of 43 or more inches of snow. The coldest months of the year tend to be January and February, with temperature highs in the 30s. The lowest recorded temperature occurred in River Vale on January 5, 1904. The thermometer read -34°F.
The winter season can include extreme cold temperatures, blizzards, heavy snow, ice storms, and more. One of the worst blizzards in New Jersey’s recent history was the Blizzard of 2016. This blizzard brought in record-levels of snow mixed with high wind speeds that lasted for several days.
When winter storms are forecasted, you should prepare yourself with enough food, water, and other survival supplies to sustain you while you shelter in place. Consider the possibility of a power outage, as power lines can become damaged with heavy snowfall and strong gusty winds. If you need to drive, be sure to have a vehicle winter kit in the event that your car gets stranded or stuck in the snow. For more tips on winter and extreme cold preparedness, check out our guide!
Wildfires are a scary possibility for the Garden State, especially along the 1.1 million-acre tract known as the Pinelands. Every year, several fires break out, more so during the peak spring season. Small fires are usually contained within hours or days, but a catastrophic fire would threaten the half a million-plus residents who live in that area.
On April 20, 1963, New Jersey experienced its worst wildfire ever. A combination of arson, careless debris burning, drought, and 40 mph winds fueled dozens of fires throughout the southern part of the state. The tragic consequence was the destruction of 190,000 acres of wildland, 21 homes, and several fatalities.
Since the majority of wildfires are caused by humans, whether by careless burning or for other reasons, it’s important that every person does their part to prevent fires from getting out of control. If you’re having a bonfire or burning dry foliage, be sure to have enough water and a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. Never leave a fire unattended. During the spring season, be extra careful. Look into the current fire bans and ordinances posed by your county. There are several ways to protect your home and mitigate the fire risk in your property. Our wildfire preparedness guide has many suggestions and tips that you may find helpful. Find the guide here!
6. Extreme Heat and Drought
New Jersey has a humid subtropical or continental climate, depending on the region geographically. The warmest months are July and August, typically averaging a high of 82°F to 87°F, but because of the humidity, the temperature oftentimes feels hotter. The highest ever recorded temperature in New Jersey occurred on July 10, 1936— it reached 110°F!
Extreme heat and high humidity can become dangerous because it impedes your body from cooling itself down properly. In the worst-case scenario, you may end up with heat stress or heat stroke. These conditions are serious and should receive medical attention as soon as possible. For this reason, it’s vital that you learn the symptoms and safe techniques for cooling the body down. In our heat wave guide, you can find mitigation and safety tips!
High heat and low precipitation can contribute to droughts. Long-term droughts can have major impacts on the state’s agriculture and economy, as well as access to potable water. New Jersey’s longest droughts (since 2000) occurred between October 30, 2001, and November 12, 2002. During that time, almost 2% of the state was affected by mass shortages that resulted in crop and pasture failures. You can find the current drought information for New Jersey here.
Landslides occur along steep hillsides and slopes where the bottom layer of soil becomes overwhelmed by the weight of the layer of topsoil, eventually giving way. There are several types of common landslides in New Jersey, including debris flow and rock slides. Natural disasters, land development, mining, and the removal of trees and vegetation greatly contribute to the vulnerability of landslips. The damage it causes goes beyond reshaping the topography but it also encompasses infrastructure and physical injury or death. Each year, the state’s annual cost for landslides exceeds the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One of the worst landslides in New Jersey’s recent history occurred on April 2007. A nor’easter caused several landslides because of an excess of rain and ground saturation. The slide damaged several homes and apartment complexes, displaced at least 50 families, and caused an accident along a highway.
In order to prepare for a landslide, you should determine your home and your city’s level of risk. For example, if you live in a mountainous area with few entrances in and out of the city, you should consider what you will do if a landslide blocks one of those roads. There are ways to mitigate the effects of landslides within your property but know that sometimes the magnitude of such disasters is beyond our control and manipulation. You and your family’s safety is a priority, therefore you should determine an evacuation plan and learn the warning signs of landslips so that you can get to safety as soon as possible. Be sure to read our complete guide to landslide preparedness here!
8. Power Outages
New Jersey is well acquainted with long-term power outages. From major natural disasters to power grid failures, the Garden State has experienced it all! Under ideal circumstances, the electricity is restored within a few hours, but when infrastructure is destroyed, it may take weeks for the power to be fixed. During Hurricane Sandy, some people waited approximately two weeks for their power to return!
It’s imperative to become prepared for power outages. There are several ways to do this. My recommendation is to have a blackout weekend. This means that you would turn off the power at your home for two days and learn to live without it. That would be the perfect time to test your emergency gear. Worst comes to worst, you can turn the power back on if you must. This kind of experience will give you the best insight with respect to any flaws you may have in your preparedness plan. In our power outage guide, you can find tips to become ready for a long outage, as well as meal ideas for when there is no electricity. Find the guide here.
An average of 2 to 5 tornadoes hit New Jersey every year. The majority of them tend to be weak, usually reaching EF0 to EF2 strength; rarely do they reach EF3. Tornadoes in New Jersey have been responsible for an estimated $69 million in damages over the course of the last 60 years. By comparison, the United States averages $400 million in damages from tornadoes in a single year.
One of the most destructive tornadoes to hit New Jersey occurred on May 1973. This EF3 tornado injured 12 people and destroyed about 12 homes. The deadliest tornado occurred on June 20, 1835, and killed 5 people.
Even though tornadoes are low on the list of possible natural disasters in the Garden State, it would still be a smart idea to learn the basic procedures for staying safe in the event that a tornado is predicted to occur in your area. Taking shelter in an interior room of your home is one of the safest places to be if you don’t have a storm shelter. Learn more tips here!
There are several faults in New Jersey hence why earthquakes occur in that region. The good news is that the earthquakes are generally so small that you wouldn’t even feel them. Stronger earthquakes usually don’t cause more damage than knocking a few items off the shelf, but occasionally they can crack walls and topple chimneys.
The worst earthquake to strike New Jersey occurred on November 29, 1783. It had a magnitude of 5.3 on the seismic scale. The next strongest quake occurred on August 23, 1938, and it had a magnitude of 4.8. Minor damage, such as broken dishes, was reported.
Since the population size is increasing, a future shaker could cause loss of property or life. New building codes implemented by the state should prevent extensive damage in homes. The problem lies with old buildings that have not been built to withstand earthquakes. It’s recommended that old buildings be retrofitted and brought up to code.
Many people wonder if there is a possibility that a tsunami can ever hit New Jersey. Even though the risk is minimal, researchers affirm that the chance of a small tsunami is more probable than a large killer one. Although tsunamis along the east coast are uncommon, some sources have recorded footage of tsunami-like waves coming on shore in New Jersey, however, there were no reports of damage or injury.
Natural disaster resources for New Jersey
Although New Jersey is prone to several types of disasters, there are plenty of resources available to help you prepare for and recover from them. I encourage you to take advantage of the following:
- Get the National Weather Service's phone alerts. The NOAA Weather App sends real-time weather alerts and warnings based on your phone’s current location. Download the free app and make sure to update the settings accordingly so that you can hear the alerts at any time of the day. On occasion, alerts may be sent out during the evening or while you’re sleeping.
- Determine your risk. New Jersey is a small state but it doesn’t mean that all of the disasters mentioned above apply directly to the area you live in. Figure out which events your city and property are specifically at risk for and focus your preparedness efforts on those. In our disaster page, we offer several in-depth guides to help you along the process. Be sure to check them out and remember to download the free checklist at the end. The checklists serve as helpful reminders when a disaster strikes. They can be printed and kept with your important documents or emergency supplies.
- Become involved with your community. For those of you who enjoy hands-on learning, I encourage you to look into CERT. CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) is a government-based organization that offers free courses, training, and supplies to help you prepare and respond to local disasters. You can expect to meet like-minded people and improve your preparedness knowledge and skills. Find your local CERT here!
- One of the best ways to give back to your state or community during a crisis is through New Jersey’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NJVOAD). This organization is made up of volunteers who gather information about the resources that people may have available to donate post-disaster. If your resources are needed, you will be called at the appropriate time.
- Participate in the annual preparedness conference. The New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Association hosts an annual conference in which they provide training in mitigation, planning, response, and recovery for all types of emergencies.
- Find more state government resources. New Jersey’s Office of Emergency Management offers a lot of information about preparedness and recovery on its website.
Becoming prepared for emergencies is important because it puts you one step ahead during the process of recovery. Now is the best time to start planning how you will overcome a future emergency. I hope you found value in this article! If you know anyone else who may benefit from the information here, be sure to share the article with them.
Are you interested in learning about which disasters affect other states? Find the information to all the other 49 US states here!
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