NEW JERSEY — Tropical Storm Isaias tore through New Jersey on Tuesday, spawning tornadoes and leaving more than 1.3 million homes without power in its wake.
Power company officials said restoration of the widespread power outages, which affected every county, would take multiple days, winds gusting to 69 mph caused significant damage. Two tornadoes formed, in Cape May County and in Ocean County, damaging a church in Ocean City and destroying the outdoor venue of the Surflight Theatre on what was supposed to be opening night for the performance of "Mamma Mia." Trees came down on homes, on power lines and vehicles, but there were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
Gov. Phil Murphy had issued a state of emergency ahead of the arrival of Isaias, telling residents to stay off the roads and out of harm's way, but many people headed out shortly after the storm passed through. Police officers were out directing traffic because traffic signals were out, and blocking off roads due to downed power lines.
Isaias also prompted the cancellation of dozens of flights at Newark Liberty International Airport. "Confirm [your] flight with your carrier prior to arriving at [the airport]," officials advised. New Jersey Transit suspended its rail service as well, Murphy said in a tweet.
More than 1.3 million homes and businesses were without power as of 4 p.m., including more than 691,000 Jersey Central Power & Light customers and 452,000 PSE&G customers. Atlantic City Electric was reporting 186,000 customers without service.
JCP&L officials said power restoration "will be a multi-day restoration effort" because of a significant number of broken utility poles, downed wires and other equipment damage.
PSE&G officials said it had begun restoration work on extensive damage. "We're responding as safely+quickly as possible w/help from out-of-state," the company tweeted.
Atlantic City Electic suspended its automated estimates of power restoration and said will be updated as crews assess damage caused by the storm.
The Surflight Theatre posted photos of its outdoor venue, which was supposed to house the company's performance of "Mamma Mia," its first show since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the state in mid-March.
The Cape May County tornado knocked over the steeple of the Central Ocean City Union Chapel as well trees and power lines across the area.
Adam Joseph 32nd & Central OCNJ#tropicalstormisaias#6abcaction
Posted by Krissy Balistreri Torres on Tuesday, August 4, 2020
The Ocean County tornado was seen in Barnegat and Stafford townships, and associated winds caused damage in Berkeley Township, knocking over a dugout at the town's Little League complex and knocking trees and tree limbs all over.
In Wayne, winds brought a tree down on a U.S. Postal Service mail delivery truck. The driver reportedly was not in the truck at the time and was not injured.
#Isaias damage captured in Wyckoff, NJ. #Wyckoff #NJ #NJwx @Ginger_Zee @johndavittontv @Daji_aswad_wx @DaveCurren @stormchaserQ @News12NJ @fox5ny @ABC @CBSNewYork @PIX11News pic.twitter.com/xVl4DEVLSl
— Hilda Estevez (@HildaEstevezWX) August 4, 2020
The downed power lines led to electrical fires in a number of towns, and forced road closures. In South Brunswick, 26 roads were shut down in 90 minutes due to downed lines.
The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch across New Jersey as Tropical Storm Isaias made its way north through the mid-Atlantic, packing winds of nearly 50 mph. But a shift in the storm's track means most of the state likely will be spared the heaviest rainfall and potential flash floods.
Murphy issued a state of emergency for all 21 counties that took effect at 5 a.m. Tuesday ahead of potential impacts from the storm, closing state offices and ordering a limit on nonessential travel. New Jersey remains under a tropical storm warning from the National Weather Service.
The tornado watch was in effect for the entire state until 4 p.m. The weather service confirmed a tornado over Corbin City, in Cape May County, at 9:53 a.m. Tuesday, and issued a tornado warning, telling residents to take cover. There were no immediate reports of damage.
When a tornado warning is issued, you should move to a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If you are outdoors, in a mobile home, or in a vehicle, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.
"Hurricane Isaias is expected to impact the state with severe weather conditions, including strong winds and heavy rainfall," Murphy said. "The safety of our residents is our main priority, and we urge everyone to be informed of local weather conditions and to stay off the roads."
Isaias made landfall in North Carolina Monday evening as a hurricane and while it has been downgraded to a tropical storm, was still packing winds of 40 to 50 mph with gusts to 65 mph. The National Hurricane Center said the storm had spawned tornadoes in North Carolina and Virginia, and the potential for isolated tornadoes exists in New Jersey.
The tropical storm winds were reaching the state by 8 a.m. Tuesday and were expected to increase quickly as Isaias was moving through at 33 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
New York Metro Weather reporter John Homenuk says he witnessed a tornado at about 11 a.m. on Route 72 East near Long Beach Island.
Just witnessed a tornado on 72 east near Long Beach Island. Debris in the air and on road with power flashes on roadway. Power lines are down. #njwx @NWS_MountHolly
— John Homenuk (@jhomenuk) August 4, 2020
Tidal flooding continues to be a concern as well, the weather service said, as high tides fed by the full moon may be driven higher by the storm winds.
Among the state offices closed were all of its Motor Vehicle Commission offices, which have seen people camping overnight and lining up in the early hours to get licenses and vehicle registrations after the offices were closed for more than four months in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state Department of Environmental Protection closed Island Beach State Park Tuesday morning as the storm neared New Jersey. Traffic lights are out in parts of Beachwood and Toms River as of 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The state got a taste of the storm Monday evening as a patch of thunderstorms moved through. A wind gust of 70 mph was recorded at the Robert J. Miller Airpark in Ocean County, and one of 59 mph was recorded at Neshanic Station, according to the weather service's Mount Holly office. The brief storm uprooted trees in Toms River and spawned odd-shaped clouds in Lacey Township.
Scattered power outages persisted Tuesday morning in the wake of that storm, with about 900 homes without electricity in Ocean County and 700 in Sussex as of 9 a.m.
The National Weather Service's Philadelphia forecast said the tropical storm force winds will pose a significant hazard, and anyone who has not secured loose items outside should do so.
If you see downed power lines, stay away from them. Assume they are live and dangerous, and report them immediately. Jersey Central Power & Light customers can call 1-888-544-4877, or call 911 to report them.
You can report power outages to JCP&L by calling 1-888-544-4877.
For areas where flash flooding remains possible, authorities remind residents to not drive through flooded roads. Residents of low-lying areas should continue to monitor conditions.
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