Bob “Weatherman” Burger
Bob “Weatherman” Burger is a longtime resident of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. After retiring from the Island Heights Police Department in the 1990s, he focused his energies on a long-time hobby: meteorology. He developed a Facebook page to provide local weather forecasts to Point Pleasant and surrounding communities. During Hurricane Sandy, thousands of citizens from the Jersey Shore relied heavily on for storm related information. A year after the storm, Burger discloses what it was like to be an unsung hero during a time of crisis.
Where have you lived over the course of your life? Were you living there during Hurricane Sandy?
Point Pleasant my entire life…except for Newark, of course. Born in Newark, lived there one week, then Point Pleasant. I haven’t left.
What do you think of the community in Point Pleasant?
It’s great, that’s why I have been here for 56 years. I grew up here, went to school here, high school here, always been here. I actually received a bunch of awards from the State Senate…Congress…Chamber of Commerce… those were all community awards.
When you first heard about Hurricane Sandy, what were your initial impressions? How did you prepare for the storm?
I was the one who told everyone else. I mean Sandy basically came to be on October 22nd, it was a tropical depression on the 18th, then I followed Sandy all the way through Kingston, Jamaica, where she made the first landfall. Then Sandy revolved and became a hurricane on Oct 24th I believe…yep, early on Oct. 24th is when the National Hurricane Center upgraded Sandy to a Hurricane and that was right off Kingston, Jamaica. Then obviously she traveled north.
At that time, I put out on Facebook posts to everyone…basically ‘move, get out, you are gonna die, your house will float away, the ocean is going to meet the bay. I’ve seen it before, and it’s gonna meet it again. You will see 6 feet of water, which we actually saw some 7-8 feet of water.’ I knew it would happen, with 20-foot waves. The good thing about the hurricane, if there is a good thing, is you have a lot of time. We had 4-5 days to prepare everyone at least to tell them and then get them to heed the warnings like you know, move, get out, secure things, take what you need and leave, get your pets…and all that stuff.
Did you evacuate before the hurricane?
What are you gonna do, leave your house? I couldn’t leave the weather station…I have to be the last person to close the door. There were people still here. Then I have three dogs, I had to take them, my two birds, where am I gonna go? So I was like…what do you do? Bunker down, hunker down, and wait for the lights to go out and hope that the tree doesn’t fall on your house.
I mean we weren’t in an evacuation area, and I knew that the storm was never gonna make it 3 miles, you know a mile would be plenty. And being on the police department side and my government work, I had a lot of radio equipment. And I actually was listening where a house was coming…was trying to evacuate the police station from the water side of the bridge. And on their way back to the police station heading east, they were all screaming in the radio to turn around because there was a house coming over the bridge. So they had to turn around and that was the end of it, they couldn’t cross the bridge anymore. The bridge was out, and that’s of course when the water came through and the water took out and made its own inlet. But you know that’s when I told everyone she’s going to meet the bay and you will be in 6 feet of water if you are a mile in land. And that’s what happened. The highest recorded wind gust I know of is 84 miles per hour. I was online 24 hours a day.
Well, until I couldn’t be anymore. I did an update every 20 minutes of everything that was going on, where to go, how to get there, and basically that was it. Because I had been in police work and stuff for over 30 years, I knew all the OEM people, the first aid responders, fire fighters, EMS people. They were all in constant contact with me every few minutes with what was going to happen next.
I had, until the power went out, a vast amount of equipment, contacts and resources that we all shared back and forth so we know what’s going on, and we can warn people as it happened. Because of radar feeds we could see everything knew when exactly the storm was going to make landfall, where it was going to make landfall, and made it simple. I was the weather guy that kept everybody safe…and so well, I did.
Do you feel that any previous hurricanes or natural disasters impacted how others prepared for Hurricane Sandy?
I think, because, Irene was the last storm, they didn’t of course expect it to be this big. People expected some flooding, my basement is going to get wet. They didn’t expect their house to be gone. I think they still can’t find 78 homes on the beach…I mean they are just gone. You don’t expect your house to be gone. It’s horrible. I think, as it got closer they were hearing so much that it’s going to be so devastating from everybody. You know, even the radio stations finally got on to it and said, “Look, get out, do something, get away.” But we still had people in their attics for 2-3 days, because they have 10 feet of water in their house. And they were airlifted out of their houses in Point Pleasant. They had to climb up their attic, because it was too late to get out. The other thing was pets and things. You needed to get your pets. They jockeyed everyone around to shelters because there were no room. The people in Point Pleasant, they had to go to the high school. They were in the high school for 6 hours. Then they took them over to Toms River. Then they took them to Barnegat, then they decide to take them to Burlington County. And you live in Point Pleasant then you are in a shelter in Burlington County, and you are like what am I doing here?
In regards to your home, how much damage did you sustain?
Actually, not much at all. I’m in Point Pleasant Borough on the west side of the canal, so really a lot of wind, trees, things like that were down. No…Sandy didn’t have a lot of rain; it was more of the wind and the storm surge, where Hurricane Irene had a lot of water. But no, not very much at all. Just tree branches, electric’s out, of course, everybody’s out. Close to me, telephone poles were all over the place, that kind of stuff. No, we didn’t have any of that flooding, so that was a good part. East from here, it was all flooding.
Neighbors had some trees down. One house, a really big tree fell through a house. Yea the weather station had some, but that’s ok. It was just…like when I said I knew the last wind gust was 84 miles per hour, that’s when the screen stopped so I went outside to see why it wasn’t recording anymore because it wasn’t up there. I found it at about 4-5 houses away. The anemometer is the constant spinner to tell you the wind direction. But that was the really the only damage, just that. The anemometer, electric out, once that happens you are done. NO internet connection, cell phone service was out of course. No cell phones or nothing, that was sporadic. But that really was the worst part. We have tropical birds, had to keep them warm. Had to light a thousand candles in my house, it looked like a shaolin temple. And the boiling water, I had gas so I could boil water, the humidity was at 250%, you could write your name on the window. The walls were dripping…but it wasn’t too bad at all.
Everybody had about the same…Point Pleasant Borough really sustained more of electric damage. You know, being out for 10-14 days, so water became a problem, as far as ice to keep food cold, just freezer…all that stuff. You had to throw all that food away, food of course was an issue. Heat was an issue, because without electric, you had no heat. So that was really the toughest part of the storm, for most of the people in Point Pleasant Borough. Point Pleasant Beach, obviously different, because they are 13 feet above sea level, so when you have a 20 feet storm surge, and you are 13 feet…it changes everything.
Are you aware of anyone being displaced by the storm?
I would say about 75% got displaced, because most of my friends live around here…in Toms River, and they were displaced. On my Facebook page? Probably around 60%, they ended up, you know, relocating, they had to rebuild or decide to bail.
There’s a few that are still. Probably at least 30-40 people that have nowhere to go. They are tied up with insurance money, or still working on getting the mold out or whatever they got to do. It just been amazing, it’s been a year and you go look at some of these places and there’s…you know…just now they are obviously making people demolish their homes cause you can’t rebuild them. And nobody wants to pay for this raise/lift your home thing, cause it’s a fortune.
Aside from physical changes, did you see any changes in the community after Hurricane Sandy?
The people themselves all started to come together more. There was more of a bond because obviously everyone had the same problems. It didn’t matter who you were, you needed food, you needed water, you needed ice. Everybody that didn’t get along, got along because everyone had good common bond. So there were no race issues, color issues, anything at all. Nothing became a problem anymore, everybody became helpful.
Well in my job, especially being a police chief, then weather…meant I had over 20,000 people on my Facebook page, and their friends…Facebook limits friends to 5,000 friends, the rest are all followers. Well I was also involved and in charge of the OEM’s from about Spring Lake all the way to Seaside. So I spent 14 days in the Command Center and of course that’s when everybody was coming together. Everybody from the national guard, closed every avenue. We stayed in the command center…I ran of course all the weather stuff for everybody. We tried to stay in communications…we ended up putting a generator to get back online as we soon as we could. It was a fun time.
You have been referred to as Santa Claus. Can you provide the story behind that?
Yea, all of that was after the storm. I just said “hey listen, I got kids.” Well it started that the local school called me, the grade school, and said “I’ve got some…well you have been collecting some things” and I said “Yea”, they said “I’ve got some toys”, and I said “Yea”, and they said “Well I’ve got some kids looking for toys…do you have anyone bringing toys?”. Cause all the inn centers only had cleaning, water, blankets; they got no toys. So I said, people I need toys. They would line up, to drop things off. All brand new toys from the store, none of that used crap. I need boys, girls, I broke them up to age groups. I need more 4-6 year olds, more boys, more girls. I delivered toys from Lincroft to Mantoloking. I delivered the toys myself. That’s why, in that newspaper article Ocean Star, they called me Santa Claus.
Have you ever seen a hurricane or natural disaster of this magnitude?
No, never. I hope never to again. As upsetting as it is, its just incredible. It can be so big, and of course Sandy, did everything a storm shouldn’t by making a left turn towards the North Eastern part of the United States. It got caught between high pressure, a cold front, and nowhere to go, with astronomical high tides already. It was terrible. By all accounts, Sandy was a hurricane, they just said because it was post-tropical, that it wasn’t sucking in tropical waters…but I don’t care.
How do you think the government handled storm recovery?
The National Weather Service, that was horrible. Horrendous. No one really knew. I mean we knew a storm was coming but there were no watches or warning; there was nothing put out by them. So that was horrible. And then the local government has never seen this before, they didn’t know what to do. As far as the FEMA side, that’s just absurd. People are still waiting…waiting for money, houses.
Do you feel that there are any lessons that should be learned from Hurricane Sandy?
Don’t build on the water. No, honestly, I wouldn’t. The government is not going to build up giant walls to protect us, because it takes away from living on the beach. You know, when you start building million-dollar home, which they become, multimillion-dollar homes on the ocean…you are 50 yards away from the ocean. This is not gonna be the last time; this is going to happen again, there is no doubt in my mind. Before Sandy, we didn’t have a drill, we didn’t have a plan. Nobody knew what to do, nobody know where to go. Now, people obviously have a plan, like generators…but that’s not going to help you when you are 6 feet under water. You know, we need an evacuation plan. We need to learn a lesson from this; when they tell you to get out, get out. We are lucky that loss of life was not any greater than it was.
Interviewed by Emaad Siddiqui and Jada Lindsey
Edited by Caileen Fitzpatrick
Point Pleasant, New Jersey
Recorded November 9, 2013