Natural Disasters in New Jersey: What Is the Risk?

New Jersey is home to over 9 million people, and unfortunately, many have experienced the devastating effects of natural disasters firsthand.

From hurricanes and floods to winter storms and tornadoes, the state is no stranger to the dangers of extreme weather.

Despite this reality, many New Jersey residents remain unaware of the full extent of the natural disasters that can occur in the state.

This analysis provides an assessment of the natural disasters that can occur in New Jersey and highlights the worst events in the state since 2000.

Is New Jersey At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Compared to the rest of the United States, New Jersey has a low risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, New Jersey has had 33 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 23 were declared major disasters. 

New Jersey is also frequently hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, more than 41 separate $1-billion events have affected the state.

Worst Natural Disasters in New Jersey By Cost (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Sandy 2012: $83.9 billion
  2. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
  3. Hurricane Ida 2021: $80.2 billion
  4. Hurricane Ivan 2004: $32.2 billion
  5. Hurricane Irene 2011: $17.7 billion

Worst Natural Disasters in New Jersey By Deaths (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Sandy 2012: 159 deaths
  2. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
  3. Hurricane Ida 2021: 96 deaths
  4. Hurricane Ivan 2004: 57 deaths
  5. Hurricane Isabel 2003: 55 deaths

*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.

Most Common Natural Disasters in New Jersey

1. Floods

New Jersey is a coastal state with over 18,000 miles of streams and rivers. Because of increasing sea levels, tropical storms, and increased rainfall in the region, many areas in New Jersey are at very high risk of flooding. Snowmelt and Nor’easters in New Jersey can also cause flooding in the state. 

Because of climate change, the risk of flooding will only worsen in New Jersey. The state ranks #3 for the states with the highest increase of properties at significant risk of flooding by 2050.

New Jersey Flood Stats

  • 385,400 properties at substantial risk in 2020
  • 617,300 properties at risk by 2050
  • 459,000 properties at significant risk by 2050
  • 150,700 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
  • 588,700 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000

Which Areas of New Jersey Are Most At-Risk of Flooding?

Floods can occur in all parts of New Jersey, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are New Jersey areas with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations). 

  • Wildwood: 98%
  • Dover Beaches South: 95%
  • Margate City: 93%
  • Lavallette: 93%
  • Surf City: 91%
  • North Wildwood: 90%
  • Seaside Heights: 89%
  • Burlington: 87%
  • Sea Isle City: 86%

In addition to these areas, many major cities in New Jersey have thousands of properties at risk. This includes over 17,000 properties in Ocean City, nearly 12,000 in Toms River, and over 9,700 in Atlantic City. 

Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is only increasing in many parts of New Jersey. For example, 81% of properties in Ocean City are at risk of flooding, but this number will increase to 94% of all properties by 2050.  

Worst Floods in New Jersey’s Recent History 

New Jersey has experienced numerous major flood events since 2000.  One of the worst of these was Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In Sandy Hook, the storm surge reached 14 feet. Overall, the disaster caused nearly $30 million in damages and 37 deaths in the state.

Tropical Storm Irene also caused major flooding in New Jersey the year before. Approximately 200,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm, and six people died. 

In addition to these major events, New Jersey often has smaller flood events. It doesn’t take much flood water to cause massive damage, so residents must be prepared. 

2. Hurricanes

New Jersey doesn’t get hit by hurricanes often. In the period from 1851, when recordkeeping began to 2020, the state was only hit by four hurricanes. However, all of these were Category 1 hurricanes. New Jersey can also be affected by hurricanes in nearby areas, even if they don’t make landfall in the state.

Because New Jersey is so densely populated, the damages can be drastic when hurricanes do land. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused more than $29 billion in damages in New Jersey alone. The state ranks #14 in the country for expected hurricane damages per capita.

3. Heavy Snowfall

New Jersey ranks #24 in the country for the most snowfall and #25 for the most snowfall days per year.   However, these numbers are a bit deceptive since they examine the state as a whole. Some parts of New Jersey receive much more snowfall. The town of Newton, NJ, receives an average of 37 inches of snow annually.

Snowfall in New Jersey sometimes comes down as snowstorms or blizzards. These winter storms can shut down businesses and travel, resulting in substantial economic losses. Since 2000, the state has been affected by six billion-dollar winter storms.

New Jersey Winter Weather Stats:

  • Average snowfall per year: 24”
  • Snowfall days per year: 22 days
  • Coldest recorded temperature: -34°F in River Vale on January 5th, 1904
  • Record snowfall: 33” in Elizabeth on February 14th, 1899

4. Freezing Rain

While they don’t occur as frequently as in Northeastern states, freezing rains do occur in New Jersey. The state can expect 6-15 hours of freezing rain each year.   The western part of the state is most at-risk.

While freezing rain is most common in December and January, fall and spring freeze, events can occur.

Unfortunately, freezing rain often leads to icy road conditions, increasing the likelihood of vehicle accidents and slip-and-fall injuries. Additionally, freezing rain can cause power outages, leaving many people without heat or electricity during the coldest months of the year.

5. Heat Waves

As with the rest of the country, the risk of heat days is increasing in New Jersey. Currently, New Jersey has an average of 5 “dangerous” heat days per year. These are defined by the National Weather Service as days where the heat index is 103F or above. By 2050, the number of dangerous heat days in New Jersey is expected to increase to 30 days per year.

In addition to more dangerous heat days, New Jersey will also see more “Local Hot Days.”  Local Hot Days are defined as “Days at or above the 98th percentile temperature, or the temperature than an area could expect to see on the hottest 7 days of the year.”  Essentially, Local Hot Days factor in what temperatures a local population is used to experiencing.  

An increase in Local Hot Days is associated with health problems like strokes, and heat-related deaths are more likely to occur. Energy demands also increase from air conditioning use.

All parts of New Jersey are expected to have an increase in Local Hot Days, but Cape May County is particularly at-risk. By 2053, Cape May is expected to have 17 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 96.5℉.

6. Wildfires

New Jersey is one of the most at-risk states in the Northeast when it comes to wildfires. The state averages 1,500 wildfires per year. Luckily, most of New Jersey’s forests are hardwood, and there isn’t a lot of undergrowth, so the fires don’t spread quickly like in Western states.

The state can still see some massive wildfires, though. In 2022, a single wildfire consumed over 13,500 acres – making it the largest in New Jersey’s recent history.

Because of climate change, the risk of wildfires in New Jersey is growing. By 2050, an estimated 63% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.

New Jersey Wildfire Stats

  • Acres burned in 2021: 6,652
  • Number of fires in 2021: 906
  • Average number of wildfires per year: 1,500
  • Average number of acres burned per year: 7,000
  • Percentage of state covered by forests: 40%
  • Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 1,859,395

7. Tornados

Tornadoes in Michigan are not common. The state averages just 3 tornadoes per year, and most are very weak. The state has not had an F4 or F5 tornado in recent history, and it has only had one F3 tornado. No one has died from tornadoes, and there have only been 12 injuries since 2000. 

However, because New Jersey is so densely populated, even F1 and F2 tornadoes can cause property damage. For example, an F1 tornado cluster that hit on September 23rd, 2003, caused over 1 million in property damage and additional crop damage. Because of this, New Jersey residents should still be prepared for tornadoes.

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