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Cape May Saw Wettest March Ever

Cape May Saw Wettest March Ever

By Christopher South

Julia Sudnitskaya/Shutterstock.com

April began with showers that, according to tradition, should bring May flowers. However, rain that visited the area over the first three days of the month ended up in people’s crawl spaces and basements, and lying around in yards.

This came after the wettest March ever for the county; records were first kept in 1895. Nearly 9 inches of rain fell last month.

On April 1, the first of the three days of rain, Lower Township Councilman Roland Roy said that the rainwater retention basins around the township were full. The basin next to the Herald building on Route 47 was holding a lot of water and attracting pairs of mallards. Retention ponds along Route 9 were equally full, and water could be seen pooling on private property.

Mark Hickman of the Burleigh section of Middle Township said he has a crawl space that is about 20 inches high. He said the water that submerged his well pump and threw the electrical breaker must have been about 10 inches deep. He said he was fortunate to have dug a reservoir in his crawl space after the spring thaw of 2009.

That year, the county experienced a blizzard on each of the last two weekends in February and the first weekend in March. When the snow melted, the ground could not absorb all the water. People were hoping the municipal or county government would take care of the problem.

At that point Frank McCall, coordinator of the Cape May County Emergency Management Communications Center, said time would take care of the problem. He said once the trees started to bud and the other vegetation came to life they would absorb all the excess water. It eventually happened, but in the meantime some people had to deal with moats and lakes around their homes.

Last week ended with three days of wind (April 3 to 5), followed by mostly sunny weather, but the question remained about the groundwater level, especially with the forecast of another three days of rain by the end of the week.

So is the groundwater level in Cape May County higher than normal?

“It’s complicated,” said state geologist Steven Domber. “Groundwater is very site-specific.”

Domber said the geology of the soil will affect the level of the groundwater. “Clay does not let water infiltrate as fast as sand,” he said.

Soil with a lot of clay might see ponding for longer periods of time. Domber said the likelihood of rainwater lying around can be related to the clay composition of the soil.

The groundwater level in an area can also be related to the nearness of wetlands or streams or high ground. Domber said the U.S. Geological Survey has groundwater monitoring wells around the state, including in Cape May County; the most recent report shows the groundwater table is currently close to 9 feet below the surface.

Domber said because geology, soil, precipitation and time of year all add to the presence or absence of groundwater, it can be 2 feet or 20 feet below the surface.

As to precipitation, he said South Jersey had 8 inches of rain in March, almost double the normal amount.

David A. Robinson of Rutgers University, the state climatologist, said, “March was the wettest month in Cape May County since records commenced in 1895.”

Last month the county got 8.99 inches of rain, compared to 2.04 inches in March 2023. Overall in 2023, Cape May County got 45.22 inches of rain, above the median of 42.7 inches. The high year for precipitation in the county was 1948, when it received 62.02 inches, and the low year was 1965, with 29.22 inches.

Years with significant coastal storms, such as 1944, 1962 and 2012, did not necessarily result in significant precipitation totals.

Robinson said the data shows that the period from December 2023 to March suggests a rather wet four-month period across the state. December was the fifth-wettest December since 1895, January was the sixth-wettest, and February was the 112th-wettest out of the last 129 years.

“I don’t have a four-month ranking for the county, but for New Jersey, this was the wettest December-March period,” he said.

Robinson said April started out rather wet, with West Cape May getting 1.5 inches of rain in the first week, while Woodbine received more than 2.5 inches.

Contact the author, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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