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NOAA: A Tsunami Hit Barnegat Inlet June 13

Witness saw tide "reverse," divers sucked over sunken jetty

Barnegat Inlet, looking north from Long Beach Island to Island Beach State Park (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Barnegat Inlet, looking north from Long Beach Island to Island Beach State Park (Photo: Daniel Nee)
First an earthquake, then a hurricane – and now a tsunami in New Jersey.

The National Weather Service confirmed on Monday that it is investigating the cause of a tsunami that hit the New Jersey coast near Barnegat Inlet on June 13.

"The source is complex and still under review, though the coincidence at several  tide gauges with strong atmospheric pressure fluctuations indicate that it is at least partly generated by meteorological causes," the weather service posted on a website Monday.

The meteorological data, collected from coastal monitoring stations in locations up and down the coast, back up a witness statement submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by Brian Coen, who was spearfishing near the mouth of the inlet at 3:30 p.m. June 13, when the tsunami is said to have hit.

Coen told investigators that he saw an outgoing tide amplified by currents strong enough to pull divers over the notorious "sunken jetty" on the inlet's north side, off Island Beach State Park. So much water rushed out of the inlet so fast, despite only a slight breeze at the time, that the sunken jetty became fully exposed, according to the report. Coen said he had to back his boat out of the area before he, too, would have been sucked over the treacherous jetty rocks.

Moments later, a large wave, described as being about 6-feet, rushed toward the inlet, effectively reversing the outgoing tide, Coen described to investigators. The surge carried the divers back over the submerged jetty and also swept three people off the larger, non-submerged jetty and into the water.

All were eventually rescued.

"The event occurred in close conjunction with a weather system labeled by the National Weather Service as a low-end derecho which propagated from west to east over the New Jersey shore just before the tsunami," the report said. "It is also possible that the slumping at the continental shelf east of New Jersey played a role."

The tsunami was observed at over 30 tide gauges and one DART buoy throughout the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean, the NOAA report said.

Experts have long maintained that it was possible for a tsunami to hit the Shore area.

"Tsunamis form when something offsets the seafloor. It's like it builds a step in the ocean surface, and the whole water column is lifted up, and then it clears off," Dr. Alexander Gates, of Rutgers University, told Patch in a previous article. "Anything from an earthquake to a meteorite could generate this big wave, and cause phenomenal damage after it comes ashore."

Gates, at the time, said there was no record of a tsunami ever hitting New Jersey.

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