Cape May Hurricanes We Have Known. A Look Back


National Hurricane Center October 5th Matthew update

(Note: updated 10/5/16)

Cape May, NJ – At 5AM today, the National Hurricane Center projected that Hurricane Mathew probably will not reach New Jersey as feared.

Watching Matthew’s possible trajectory, first heading towards us, then thankfully away from us, reminded me of the roller coaster days before Sandy struck, when we waited for each new update from the National Hurricane Center.

A different storm, a different time, but the same feelings.

First, disbelief that any storm could hit Cape May. Then the thought that maybe, just maybe, this time would be different.

Hurricane Floyd, September 1999

We moved to Cape May in time to be welcomed by Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. I was still a New Yorker back then, just getting my shore roots.

I received a robocall the very morning Floyd was supposed to hit. The message? Evacuate!  It never occurred to me to leave. (No social media or 24 hour weather news back then.)

I watched in fascination as Floyd’s much weakened winds finally reached us, bending young trees in our front yard.  When my husband came home from his business trip, I got the feeling he really didn’t believe I had witnessed a hurricane. Hurricanes just don’t happen in Cape May.

Luckily, Cape May was spared the serious damage Floyd caused father south.

Hurricane Irene, August 2011

Fast forward 12 years, just before Labor Day weekend 2011. Cape May had its next hurricane encounter. Her name was Irene.

This time, things were different.

We were watching Irene evolve from the start. When Cape May County issued its mandatory evacuation order, we were ready. We bundled my elderly mother into our car and headed out at 5 AM, to beat the traffic surging away from the shore.

I remember looking back at the house one last time, wondering if we’d ever see it again.

Our nephew was supposed to visit us that weekend. We reversed plans and went to Maryland to visit him instead. We returned a couple of days later to the sounds of neighbors cutting downed tree limbs.

Cape May got lucky, again. No serious damage from the storm. Just an incredible storm surge. The waves lasted for a week.


Hurricane Sandy, October 2012

And then the big one. I don’t have to try to recall the whole “do we stay or do we go” thing for Sandy.

I wrote it down right here.

There was an evacuation order for the barrier islands, but not for the entire county. Cape May turned into a ghost town.

The shops were shuttered. Even the bridges were closed.

This time around, since we were not near the ocean, we opted to stay. Most of our neighbors decided to ride it out as well.
We had a generator. And Sandy seemed to be weakening.

And then she got stronger, just as she got closer to shore. We were watching the Weather Channel in the kitchen while we were making dinner. Suddenly the cable went out. There was a moment when we both were convinced we had made the wrong call.

But Cape May got lucky once again.
In the middle of Sandy’s devastation and loss of life, Cape May emerged unscathed.
The city of Cape May didn’t even lose power.

Tropical Storm Hermine September 2016

The most recent hurricane threat was just a month ago.

No one considered leaving when word of  Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hermine broke.

It was Labor Day weekend 2016.  Serious weather warnings caused events to be cancelled and kept some visitors at home.  Many others ignored the storm warnings and came anyway.

Local officials didn’t even discuss evacuations this time around.  In the end, Hermine barely brushed by Cape May.

Cape May’s Luck

Has Cape May, somehow, become invincible to storms? Perhaps it’s geography. Maybe something metaphysical.

That’s where we are today, with Hurricane Matthew still at a distance, getting ready to rumble, but not with us.

Storm surges, high winds, flooding – none of these seems to frighten us anymore.
Because Cape May has been so lucky, we just assume our lucky streak will continue.

Lucky streaks don’t last forever.

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About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak - a journalist, gardener and Cape Island resident - is writing a book.