VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The sun rose on a cold February morning at the 1st Street Jetty in Virginia Beach, hazy skies tried to warm the 40-degree air and 40-degree waves. No matter the conditions, there’s always a familiar face in Ed Obermeyer at the jetty.
“I’m living the dream, man!” exclaimed Obermeyer, as his eight-millimeter wetsuit and adrenaline kept his body warm. A surf photographer for years, Ed finds his stoke by capturing others.
“I just try to capture the feeling on their faces when they drop in,” added Obermeyer. “On the East Coast, we storm surf. We get our stoke when there’s a storm usually.”
And a few blocks north, tucked away between the high-rise are tales of these storms past. Inside the Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum is a manila folder full of 60 years old images of the Ash Wednesday Nor’Easter.
Long-time Virginia Beach resident Chris Bonney remembers that 1962 morning quite vividly.
“I was 10 years old, I’m standing out there with the kids in the neighborhood waiting for the school bus,” said Bonney. “And we noticed at one point that when you look down towards the ocean, you can see the ocean.”
In early March of 1962, days of gale-force winds blasted Virginia Beach as a massive area of low pressure sat offshore. In combination with an enhanced high tide, houses along the Oceanfront were washed out from underneath and toppled over. Some homes were completely destroyed, with a couple feet of water filling the streets.
A high tide of 7.22 feet was recorded, one of the highest on record for the area, rivaling that of Isabel (7.89 feet) and Irene (7.55 feet).
“Tides are a huge part of this whole ecosystem and this whole environment across the region,” added Super Doppler 10 Chief Meteorologist Jeff Edmondson. “When the tide comes up, it’s basically the sea level rising temporarily and with all of that increase in height, those waves, and that energy from the ocean, from the bay, comes onshore and can cause a lot of damage.”
Similar to today, back in the 1960s and 1970s, any enhanced high tide would cause an issue. But unlike today, before the City of Virginia Beach began its beach replenishment program, the beach was three times smaller than it is now.
The city works to replenish the beaches every five to seven years, building back the beach to almost 300 feet in width. 60 years ago, the beach was maybe only 80 to 100 feet in width, a number that would be much smaller now with the rate our sea level is rising.
Earlier this year, NOAA released a new study projecting a century’s worth of sea level rise in the next 30 years. For the East Coast, that could mean a rise of 14 to 18 inches. By then, the typical damaging flooding events would happen more often.
“Nothing is stable when it’s built on sand,” said Bonney. “And if we didn’t have access to sand to replenish our beach, we wouldn’t be much of a place left anymore.”
And for those that frequent the sea, know that with each day, each tide and each wave the power it holds.
“There may be a one- to two-hour window of opportunity, and if you’re working for a living, you’re going to miss it,” said Obermeyer as he grabbed his camera and headed back into the 40-degree Atlantic.