Why ocean welled up and swamped the shoreline

Spring Tide with bullying winds and torrential rains caused surf to spring onshore

Ken Palm

What made the Patriots Day northeaster different from all other northeasters? The answer would appear to be:  Terrible timing.

The northeaster combined with astronomical high tides to wreak havoc along the N.H. seacoast.  Twenty to twenty-five foot waves slammed against the shore propelled by 60 mile-per-hour winds.

This astronomical high tide is called a Spring Tide (not a season) due to the gravitational pull of the sun and moon.  Spring tides are exceptionally strong tides and occur at full moon and new moon.  As the moon circles the earth, the earth, moon and sun form a straight line twice each month.  In this alignment the sun joins the moon to exert extra gravitational pull on earth, which causes the ocean to bulge or “well up”.  Combine this bulge with rain, strong winds, and storm surge and the tide comes in and springs onto the shore, hence the name.

Foamy surf surges down 9th Street in Hampton at high tide on Monday.

Minor to moderate flooding can occur with a single rainfall, but severe flooding usually occurs when there is more than one event associated with the storm. This storm had a spring tide, surge, and heavy rains.  The No Name Storm of 1991 had the convergence of two storms with heavy wind and rain.  The Blizzard of 1978 had snow, storm surge and high tide, and it came a day after a new moon.

The morning before high tide there was excited anticipation.  Residents hunkered down or voluntarily evacuated their homes along the coast. Rain and wind picked up and the sky was dark and gray with an ominous feel to it.  The always-present seagulls were nowhere to be found.

The storm came ashore the day before the new moon and did considerable damage along the coast.  The ocean threw sand, gravel, boulders and telephone poles onto route 1A and beyond.  Lots of seafoam, eight-inches deep, ran down side streets.  As the unrelenting high waves tumbled onto shore, they spewed more and more debris.  After the first high tide, each successive high tide continued to pound the shore for the next 36 hours causing additional damage.

From second-floor porch of Paul and Sue Cowette at North Beach in Hampton.

The seawall at North Beach in Hampton took a hammering from the waves.  Spalling caps and deteriorating expansion joints were visible at 7th street and points north.  Erosion was evident at the base of the wall on the ocean side. The residents of North Beach took a double hit in April.  Not only was the wall damaged, but a $3-million dollar amendment to finish repairs of the wall was rejected in this year‘s state biennial budget cycle.

Many homes and businesses were flooded.  Shingles and siding were ripped from houses and lakes popped up in backyards as well as the area marshes.

Police and fire departments of the coastal communities were like “Johnny on the spot” at the height of the storm. They were evacuating families and helping stranded motorists.

In some places, plows moved water, but mostly they cleared rocks.

Front-end loaders restore shale at Foss Beach, north of Rye Harbor.

At North Hampton Beach, front-end loader filled truck with boulders.

Route 1-A was closed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to all vehicles on April 16.  By reacting quickly after the high tide receded, state and local crews were able to reopen Route 1-A by 3 p.m.  The state used snow plows to clear the debris, and front-end loaders replaced the shale piles along Sawyer Beach and Foss Beach in Rye.

Workers for Division 6 of the State Public Works averaged three hours sleep per night for the duration of the storm .  They arrived on route 1A two hours before high tide on Sunday  night and then cleaned up when the ocean receded.  The National Guard was out in force Monday afternoon and evening knocking on doors and making sure everyone was safe.

Tom Brown of Myrica Road in Rye got quite a scare.  He drove his daughter to the school bus stop at the end of his street, so she wouldn’t get wet, according to reports.  When the bus pulled up on Big Rock Road, they got out of the car to walk to the bus.  Within seconds of leaving the car, a tree fell on the car and completely destroyed it.  Tom got on the school bus with his daughter.  The other children on the bus were nervous.  Thinking quickly to relieve the tension, Tom reportedly told the children, “It looks like I have to buy a new car.”  The children relaxed and gave Tom a round of applause.

Along route 1-A debris littered the boulevard.  Rocks the size of footballs were strewn about.  The fish houses beside North Hampton State Beach were severely damaged.  Some were knocked off their foundations with electrical wires exposed.  Just south of North Hampton State Beach six oceanfront houses were in jeopardy of falling into the sea, when the seawall collapsed. Public works employees and private contractors, working feverishly, brought in concrete and large rocks, preventing a catastrophe and saved the houses.

Sinkhole developed opposite Rye on Rocks cottages on Ocean Boulevard.

Big sinkholes were created across from Bass beach as the angry ocean clawed a path on shore before settling on the west side marshes. The Rye Beach Club sustained severe damage, the fence knocked down and the parking lot littered with debris.

The wood planks used to secure footing on the walking path near Rye Ledge were thrown across the street. What used to be a leisurely walking lane is now an obstacle course.

The violent surf at Sawyer’s Beach leveled the shale pile onto 1-A, almost into Eel Pond.  Luckily the two pairs of swans paddled their way to safety across the pond.   Jenness Beach was a mess with sand and logs settling in its parking lot.   A tall birch toppled, pulling up its roots, just missing a house on Breakers Road.  Two streets north, on Locke Road, another tree fell pulling up roots, creating a six-foot high dirt-and-root mound alongside the road.  The commercial pier at Rye Harbor was severely damaged with many planks being ripped off its deck.  The parking lot was full of water as the storm drains were clogged.

Tree roots pulled right up next to Locke Road, just in from Ocean Boulevard.

This full northeaster that struck the Seacoast felled some trees and caused some flooding inland.  But the brunt of the storm was along the shore.  If you lived a couple of hundred yards from the normal high tide, you might not have noticed anything special.  But within 100 yards the storm wreaked havoc.

Roots gave way and tree just brushed side of house on Breakers Road.

On Thursday the sun and an unblemished blue sky presented themselves for the first time in four days.  Surfers were riding the waves, and residents were working in their yards.  Seagulls were sitting on the seawall squeaking their approval.

(Photos by Larry Feltz, Judy and Ken Palm and Martha Lardent).

The following FEMA document was made available this week by Town Administrator Alan Gould, who is Rye's Emergency Management Director:

Information required when applying for
FEMA Assistance

You must have the Disaster Declaration number available when you call. This number is: FEMA 1695-DR

The eligible counties for Individual Assistance are:Grafton - Hillsborough - Merrimack - Rockingham - Strafford

1-800-621-3362 or for hearing impaired 1-800-462-7585 (tty) to register on line: www.FEMA.gov

1. Have your social security # available.

2. Provide your current address.

3. Provide your primary PRE disaster address. (If you are not residing there currently because of the flood damage).

4. Provide phone numbers where someone can reach you.

5. Provide the type of insurance coverage you have.

6. Need total household annual income.

7. Need to provide your bank account number and ROUTING number from your bank if you want to have disaster assistance funds transferred directly into your bank account.

8. A description of your losses that were caused by the disaster.

After you've completed your application for assistance, you will receive a FEMA application number. Write down this number and keep it for future reference.

Note: FEMA verifies the name and Social Security number of those registering for disaster assistance. If the name and Social Security number on file with the Social Security Administration does not match the information you provide, you will be asked to submit a copy of an original document; e.g., marriage license, military ID, tax documents, etc., for proof of identity.  A need to review and update identity documentation may cause delays in delivery of assistance.

For additional information on disaster recovery, call the New Hampshire Disaster Recovery Hotline at 1-800-458-2407.

May, 2007