51 years later, another storm threatens Delaware

Some storm watchers see similarities between the infamous Storm of ’62 and the coastal storm predicted to hit the region this week.

Kent and Sussex Counties are under a Coastal Flood Watch while New Castle and Kent Counties are under a Winter Storm Watch through Wednesday afternoon.  Those warnings are a major change from what residents along Delaware’s beaches got in 1962, when Sussex dwellers received little to no notice that a major storm was brewing.

While it remains to be seen what impact the storm that moves into Delaware tonight through Wednesday will have, emergency planners are getting ready just in case.  The Delaware Emergency Management Agency is warning Kent and Sussex residents in areas that typically flood during coastal storms to consider moving to higher ground, before the bad weather arrives.  

Flooding comparable to Irene or Sandy?

Forecasters predict heavy rain and snow, or some combination of the two, with winds from 25 to 35 mph and gusts up to 55 mph.  Combine the wind and rain with high tides, and some areas could see a storm surge of seven feet of water.  Flooding could be comparable to Hurricanes Irene or Sandy.

Current areas of concern include coastal communities in Sussex County along the Delaware Bay, including Prime Hook and Broadkill Beach, plus inland bay areas including Angola and Oak Orchard.  In Kent County, residents in Big Stone Beach, Bennetts Park, South Bowers Beach, Bowers Beach, Kitts Hummock, Pickering Beach and Woodland Beach should consider leaving before high winds and high water makes driving dangerous.

While New Castle County is not included in the Coastal Flood Watch, residents in northern Delaware where flooding normally happens, including Bay View Beach, Augustine Beach, Delaware City and New Castle, should be ready to move if conditions worsen.

Storm of ’62 anniversary

On March 6, 1962, exactly 51 years ago tomorrow, a massive nor’easter brutalized the Delaware coastline.  The Ash Wednesday storm lasted over the course of five high tides and was responsible for seven deaths in Delaware.  The storm brought waves as high as 20 to 40 feet.  The town of Dewey Beach was completely under water.

The lessons learned from that storm’s devastation will help protect Delaware’s beach communities from similar impacts from this week’s storm.  Safety improvements include better construction standards and a beach replenishment program that’s increased the width of the beach dramatically compared to the size of the beach in 1962.

State leaders know another nor’easter as bad as the Storm of ’62 is coming.  It might not be this week’s storm, but it will eventually happen.  “It may not even be in my lifetime, but it will occur again, and even in fact, one larger than this could and possibly will occur,” said Tony Pratt, administrator of the state’s Shoreline and Waterway Management Section.  WHYY talked with Pratt just before the 50th anniversary of the ’62 storm last year.  “It could occur next week, it could occur 27 years from now.”

Pratt says the potential for rising sea level makes the prospect of another Storm of ’62 even more daunting.  “What does the future hold?  Take the ’62 storm and if we have the accelerated rates of sea level rise into the future that they’re predicting, and put that storm on top of a sea that may be one, two or three feet higher than they are today, then all bets become just negated.  We can’t take those risks.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.