A bizarre winter storm with wind gusts as high as 68 miles per hour blew through Weehawken early Wednesday morning, uprooting a tree on Highpoint Avenue and causing severe damage to a pedestrian structure at the UBS Financial Services headquarters on Harbor Boulevard.
The storm, intensified by the rare warm temperatures for January (Tuesday’s high was 62 degrees), raced through the area before Wednesday morning’s rush hour, causing the township’s public safety departments to be on high alert.
“This was unusually high wind gusts for January, reaching hurricane force,” Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz said. “It was a very rare storm. When you have warmer temperatures like that, you might get winds usually associated with summer storms. We were put on alert because of the winds.”
The first concern was the tree that fell onto a Highpoint Avenue home. It was thought at first to have brought down electrical wires as well, but that was not true. The fallen tree did cause minor structural damage to the home.
“There was some bent siding and some damage to the front porch,” Welz said.
Throughout the township, there were reports of downed branches, but none that caused major damage to any property. Department of Public Works crews were out removing the fallen tree branches from the township’s streets.
The most serious result of the storm occurred near the waterfront, when the roof of a pedestrian foot bridge, linking two of the UBS Financial Services buildings, was shorn off by the force of the winds.
“The wind got underneath the aluminum that covers the roof of the bridge, and pieces started flying off it,” Welz said. “The wind continued to rip off the siding and the insulation, causing it to fall to the street below. One of the glass panels also fell to the street and shattered. Fortunately, all of this occurred before the morning rush hour, or there might have been injuries.”
Weehawken police and security personnel from both UBS and Hartz Mountain Industries, which owns the building, quickly worked to close off the street below (19th Street and Harbor Boulevard) to keep anyone from getting hurt. North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue personnel tried to secure the aluminum roofing as best as possible.
By 2 p.m., the area was secured, the bridge was re-opened to pedestrian traffic, and the road below was opened to vehicular traffic.
“The structure was deemed safe, so everything went back to normal,” Welz said. “It was good that the winds had died down by 10:30 (a.m.), so we were able to restore the area.”
Welz said that UBS officials told him that permanent repairs to the structure will begin this week.
There were some reports of some NY Waterway ferry lines being shut down due to the storm, but none of those involved ferries operating out of the Weehawken terminal.
Welz said that the NHRFR received 55 storm-related calls about downed trees, wires and such, but there were no reports of major damage, other than the UBS pedestrian bridge.
“It was just tree branches and street signs,” Welz said. “There were no injuries and no major property damage. It was just a weird storm. We fared well, but it turned out to be a busy day for the police, the fire and the DPW. It could have been a lot worse.”