Why Is The Water So Cold On Long Beach Island? I’ve got 2 Words For You: Up & Welling

Kite Surfing: You're Doin' It Wrong
Kite Surfing: You’re Doin’ It Wrong. (Kite Surfers were hitting the icy cold South Winds for comfort & pleasure in big numbers yesterday)

This summer’s best kept secret off the Island, and most painful one on LBI is the icy cold water we’ve endured all season. The Cold Water Conspiracy is in full effect keeping the news from reaching the masses and disrupting their potential vacation plans. But we’re here to observe, not to disturb, so let’s tell it like it is. It is freakin’ freezing!

When talking to folks on the beach, it becomes obvious there is a lot of confusion about why the water is so cold on LBI this summer. After one endures some initial “I’ve been comin’ here longer than you” type boasting, the conversation quickly turns to the cold water: as in “I’ve been comin’ here since the 60’s and I’ve never felt it so cold.” Sure you have (or haven’t been comin’ here very much since the 60’s!), but let’s get back to why.

It’s no secret here on Readings From The Northside that the Wind drives life at the beach more than any other atmospheric phenomenon. And one of the many things the Wind rules with an iron fist is the water temps. Most folks know that the West wind makes it cold and the East wind makes it warm, but the North/South phenomenon is where most people stopped reading.

Our basic water temps in the surf on LBI are created by solar heating. Some postulate that the East wind actually blows in the Gulf Stream waters but that’s not really true at all. The nearshore waters are heated by the sun on the surface, and then the Wind pushes that warm water around. And East Wind pushes the warm surface waters towards where your swimming, and the West Wind pushes them away.

But when the Wind blows North & South a new phenomenon is introduced: upwelling. Upwelling is simply the rising of of cold water from the bottom of the ocean to replace surface water that has disappeared. Upwelling is a global phenomenon and its behavior is different in each hemisphere. But here on Long Beach Island, the rules are simple: A North or South Wind pushes warm surface water to the right of its direction. So when the Wind blows from South To North, the surface water moves right, straight out to sea. And since we have solar heated water, there goes all your warmth.

But it gets worse. In heavier, sustained South Winds, cold water from the bottom of the sea, and we’re talking pitch-black-sea-creature cold water, starts moving towards shore and up to the surface to numb your spine. So while most folks fear the West Wind in regards to cold water, what should really make you shiver is the South Wind once upwelling has begun. And that’s exactly what is dominating Summer 2013 with a month straight of sustained South Wind.

Beyond Water Temps, The Great LBI Upwelling of 2013 will probably have a big impact on the ecosystem as a whole. Whether it is positive or negative is a matter of debate and remains to be seen. On the one hand, upwelled deep water is generally nutrient rich and great for stuff. In fisheries around the globe, upwelled spots = fish = $$$$. But there are also fragile life forms that get blown away from the coast, out to deeper water where they can’t swim, so we lose those guys. There is no doubt that bluefish, and even the bunker are staying very far away from us this year. The sea hunting Osprey are struggling to make catches ; my camera can assure you.

That’s the story. I continue to advocate purchasing a Spring Suit (street name “Shorty”) Wetsuit of at least 2mm thickness. I stopped in Faria’s in Surf City just to check the stock and they have a great collection for youth & adults. Take the plunge: become a “wetsuit person” (and then you can literally take the plunge into the freezing cold water) Incidentally, the guy at Surf City Farias’s told me if you are buying more than one for the kids, they will probably wheel and deal on the price.