SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. - With a steel-gray sky overhead and a land breeze that brought biting gnats to the beachfront, conditions weren't as picture-perfect as Gov. Christie might have hoped as he reintroduced the Jersey Shore to the world Friday morning via a national morning news show and a ribbon-cutting certified by Guinness as a world record.
Among those who came by to give the cause an assist at the start of Memorial Day weekend were Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and other cast members of Jersey Shore, though the governor has professed not to be a fan of the former TV reality show.
"Anybody who lives in New Jersey, the Jersey Shore is in your heart . . . this means everything to our state," Christie said before cutting a 5.51-mile-long blue ribbon - the longest such ribbon anywhere to be cut ceremonially ever - declaring the storm-battered Shore recovered and ready for summer business.
Guinness certified that the ribbon was nearly a mile longer than the previous record holder, said Mike Janela, an adjudicator for Guinness at the event.
The event, the apex of a weeklong schedule of Christie appearances up and down the Shore, was capped Friday morning by a featured interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today show and an early-morning beach concert by the pop band fun. that made hundreds of locals and their kids late for work and school.
Many of the 2,000 or so in attendance wore blue T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Stronger than the storm" to signify the region's resilience in recovering from Sandy, which struck Oct. 29.
The storm damaged 346,000 structures at the Shore, causing $38 billion in damage along the coast, and threatening to derail the state's lucrative $39 billion-a-year tourism industry.
On Friday, as fun. belted out its anthem, "We Are Young," the song seemed to capture the moment - the culmination of months of struggle for residents and businesses in the state's four Shore counties, Atlantic, Cape May, Ocean, and Monmouth. Many sang along to the lyrics while others wept.
"I'm crying because it's been such a long, hard struggle for us . . . for everyone here," Daralynn Schumacher, 46, of Seaside Park, said as the song seemed to reverberate off the lazy waves. "Unless someone's been through what we've been through here, I don't think they could understand."
Lifelong Seaside Heights resident Jim Goskowsky, 50, likened the condition of the resort's boardwalk after Sandy to a scene from the original Planet of the Apes movie when the Statue of Liberty appears embedded up to its neck in sand.
"You saw it, but you just couldn't believe what you were looking at," Goskowsky said, describing how he felt just after Sandy when he saw only block after block of smooth sand beach on the spot where the boardwalk had washed away.
Elsewhere, crowds of thousands more from Point Pleasant Beach to Sea Isle City gathered for simultaneous ribbon-cuttings and other events to signify the unofficial start of the summer season.
"This is an incredible day for New Jersey. Seven months ago, I saw firsthand the devastation on this boardwalk. I knew that if we all worked hard, we could get this done," Christie said as workers continued putting the finishing touches on the Seaside Heights boardwalk, which officials say will be finished next week.
The over-the-top publicity drive this week with Christie at the helm - that had nearly every beach town along the coast participating on Friday - was geared toward getting summer visitors to come back to the beleaguered Shore.
For their part, the Jersey Shore cast during their appearances offered supportive sentiments about Seaside: Paul "Pauly D" Del Vecchio called the town a "happy place," and Snooki predicted the crowds would certainly be back this year.
She apparently failed to win the governor's affections for her show.
After their appearances on Today, in an encounter captured on video by the Asbury Park Press and reported by the Associated Press, when Snooki told Christie she hoped he would "start to like us," he responded: "Well, we'll do our best."
After they parted, Snooki looked at the camera and said, "He just doesn't like us."
On the Shore's prospects, though, all were in agreement.
"Everybody needs to come this summer . . . especially for them," said Snooki's castmate Deena Cortese, referring to the amusements, restaurants, and shops around her on the boardwalk.
And according to AAA Clubs of New Jersey, that may just happen.
AAA recently polled potential Jersey Shore visitors and found traditional Shore travelers would likely return this year, with 79 percent of them saying Sandy had not altered their travel plans, according to an AAA spokeswoman.
The majority of those polled - 82 percent - said they believed that the money they spend at the Shore will directly help small businesses rebuild, the poll said.
"The loyalty that New Jerseyans have to their beaches is obvious, and the survey reaffirms that people will be making a concerted effort to support their local communities and 'Restore the Shore,' " said Tracy Noble, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Noble said that although Sandy may have altered the landscape in some Shore communities, it didn't diminish the "fierce pride and determination of its dedicated visitors."
Residents and visitors may need to be just as resilient and tough next summer.
Weather forecasters are already warning that the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season may be "above normal" and, possibly, "extremely active."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week in an outlook report the East Coast should prepare to batten down the hatches. As many as 13 to 20 named storms could be on their way, with three to six of them turning into major hurricanes, according to Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator.
Warmer seas and other atmospheric conditions are contributing to the predictions, Sullivan said.
Sullivan reminded the public that the last time a major hurricane made landfall in the United States was Wilma in 2005. Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm just before it came ashore at Brigantine.
"With the devastation of Sandy fresh in our minds, and another active season predicted, everyone at NOAA is committed to providing lifesaving forecasts in the face of these storms and ensuring that Americans are prepared and ready ahead of time," Sullivan said.
Locally, Atlantic City Electric is holding a storm-preparedness event in conjunction with the American Red Cross Southern Shore Chapter and the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Preparedness on Tuesday in Atlantic City. The electric company is urging residents to attend the session, which will take place at noon at Kennedy Plaza on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and will provide information about better ways to prepare for the coming storm season, officials said.