It was certainly no beach day at the Jersey Shore yesterday, as wind-whipped snow and freezing rain blanketed the region, leaving barrier-island bridges closed and thousands without electrical power.
Emergency-management officials in Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean Counties reported no major problems, but the storm made for slushy driving conditions along the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway.
In Atlantic and Cape May Counties, officials were forced to close portions of Routes 30 and 40 into Atlantic City, because of tidal flooding, and causeway bridges linking barrier islands like Ocean City and Wildwood with the mainland, because of extremely slick road conditions during morning high tide.
Several dozen fender-benders and spinouts were reported along the Route 52 Causeway between Ocean City and Somers Point, on the George Redding Bridge linking Wildwood with the mainland, and on the Townsends Inlet Bridge between Sea Isle City and Avalon.
At the height of the morning's round of outages, as many as 11,000 homes were without power after heavy snow and ice downed tree limbs and power lines, according to a spokeswoman for Atlantic City Electric.
Most of those in Beach Haven, Brigantine, Atlantic City, Upper Township, and Wildwood who were without power much of the day were expected to have their electricity restored before the storm's second round, expected to intensify after nightfall, officials said.
Despite the messy conditions, no injuries, evacuations, or other major problems were reported, according to Lenora Boninfante, a spokeswoman for Cape May County.
The storm ruined plans for shopping, caroling, and other holiday traditions at the Shore usually scheduled for the weekend before Christmas, including a Victorian candlelight house tour in Cape May, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, which annually attracts thousands of people to the resort town.
"We're really disappointed that the house tour is canceled - it's something we look forward to every year," said Dianna Brookstone, 47, who traveled to Cape May from her home in New York City with friends for the weekend. "But the snow really does make it pretty here, so we'll still have a good time getting some Christmas shopping done in all the nice shops and having a really good dinner tonight. So it's not too bad."
What had persisted as mostly a snow-and-sleet mixture for much of the day yesterday along the shoreline was predicted by forecasters to shift to an all-snow event. As much as 12 inches of snow could accumulate along the Shore, while as much as two feet could be dumped on inland Atlantic County and into deep South Jersey in Cumberland and Salem Counties, according to the National Weather Service.
But emergency-management officials on the coast said they were mostly worried about predicted wind gusts that could reach up to 60 miles per hour and create blizzard conditions, which could kick up surf and cause beach erosion.
To prepare for such conditions, the management of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry suspended service as of 2:30 p.m., after relatively mild gusts up to 30 m.p.h. most of the day had made the crossing a bit rocky in the already roiled Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.
Atlantic City emergency-management coordinator Tom Foley observed that the bad weather was adding to an already difficult financial situation this holiday season for the local casinos and stores, which had been counting on the last-minute holiday rush to put them into the black.
"It's already tough here this time of the year with the economy. This weather just makes it tougher," said Foley, noting that areas like the Boardwalk, the Pier at Caesars, and an outlet shopping area called The Walk would normally be bustling with shoppers and casinogoers. Instead, the places looked "like a ghost town."
It wasn't quite Christmas shopping, but business was booming about 12 miles inland near the Hamilton Mall in Hamilton Township, where a heavy-equipment auction run by Alex Lyon & Son Auctioneers was being held outside the Atlantic City Race Course.
About 250 people - decked out in flannel-lined overalls and fur-lined boots - stood in the snow for hours bidding on cement mixers, front-end loaders, and forklifts.