Despite what seemed like an unusually stormy winter, New Jersey's beaches emerged in good shape, even after a series of March storms collectively dubbed the "Foureaster."
State environmental officials and a coastal engineering expert from Stevens Institute of Technology made the assessment Thursday in Asbury Park, previewing the state of the shore before the Memorial Day weekend.
"I'm happy to say that the beaches for this summer are in great shape," said Catherine McCabe, New Jersey's acting commissioner of environmental protection.
Jon Miller, director of Ocean Engineering at Stevens, said the four March storms individually weren't serious, but together, they qualified as the fifth most significant storm during the last 34 years.
"We had four storms in quick succession, and the beaches didn't have time to recover," he said.
Erosion ranged from minor to significant along the state's 127-mile coast, with conditions often varying widely within just a few hundred feet.
Sand that was lost to erosion from the winter storms is lying just offshore in sand bars that will gradually be brought back ashore by waves by June or July, Miller said.
"We expect all that sand to come back," he said.
There were eight significant storms between September and March, but most of them did not have large, powerful waves that do the most damage in terms of beach erosion.
"That definitely helped," he said.
New Jersey benefited because large swaths of its coastline had recently been replenished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those widening projects, coupled with comparatively calm winter storm seasons, left the beaches in good shape with the summer tourism season about to begin.
Miller said an average of 20 percent of the sand from recently replenished beaches was lost to erosion over the winter.
"That is expected and designed-for," he said. "That is the beach project working as it should. Public relationswise, it can look like a disaster, because people see part of the sand gone and say, 'That's a failure.' But it's an expected adjustment of the beach."
There was more erosion observed at traditional problem spots like the Ortley Beach section of Toms River. But other problem spots, such as Mantoloking, which recently had a replenishment after fighting against one for years, are in much better shape than they otherwise would have been, Miller said.
McCabe also said New Jersey's water quality continues to be excellent. The state's ocean waters met acceptable standards 97 percent of the time last year, she said.