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Blizzard brings high winds, power outages and flooding to Cape Cod, South Coast and Islands

Eve Zuckoff
Eversource trucks in Falmouth.

Update, 11:30 am, Monday

In the wake of this weekend’s storm, efforts are underway to assess just how much damage the region saw from flooding and erosion. WCAI’s Eve Zuckoff and Jason Graziadei of Nantucket Current speak to Morning Edition host Sam Houghton about local impacts, including the Ballston Beach house clinging on, and some young men who took to a canoe to navigate the flooded streets of downtown Nantucket.

Monday morning storm update.mp3

The house on Ballston Beach in Truro
Courtesy: Peter Marteka
A home at Ballston Beach stands exposed on wooden piers after the storm washed the remainder of the dune out from under it.

Update, 8:40 p.m., Sunday

Report by Eve Zuckoff

Cape Cod officials and experts are still assessing how hard the coast was hit by the weekend’s winter storm.

Morning light on Sunday in Hatchville, Falmouth.

Town officials are closely monitoring what damage can be observed, making it a priority to clear the roads and restore power to residents. Across the Cape and islands, power lines are still damaged, trees are still down and roads are still icy.

But in terms of storm damage, Sandwich’s Director of Natural Resources Dave DeConto says the region may have dodged a bullet.

“In one way, we're very lucky because we had the October nor'easter and a lot of our tree limbs and susceptible trees all came down already,” he said. “So, you know, if we hadn't had that and we had had the buildup, this would have been right there with the big storms in ’13, ’15 and ’17.”

DeConto says he’s concerned some homes on Spring Hill Beach still could be undermined by catastrophic erosion over the coming days.

Barnstable County coastal specialist Greg Berman said Sunday morning he’s seen significant erosion damage on the Upper Cape.

“Any kind of gains over the last quieter periods where we may have gotten some dune accumulation — wiped away,” he said. “So we've got fairly sheer faces on the dunes, like straight up and down vertical.”

And Sandwich isn’t alone: erosion is underway in a number of other Cape towns. Photos of a home on Ballston Beach reveal major damage to a dune.

Despite flooding and erosion from the storm, conservation managers on the Cape report beachfront homes and buildings remain largely intact. Still, DeConto said, it’ll be days before conservation agents can fully assess the storm’s damage.

The Cape also suffered Massachusetts’ most widespread power outages. As of 6:15 p.m. Sunday, 86% of Chatham residents were still without power, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

With roughly 2,000 people still without power in Sandwich, DeConto pointed to a warming center opened at the Council on Aging where people could get a hot beverage and food.

DeConto doesn’t anticipate the blizzard’s cost will be immensely high, or that his town of Sandwich will see much structural damage.

“Where the cost is going to be: in all the overtime, and the plowing and all those different things that we have to deal with when you have a storm,” he said. “We were pretty well prepared for this storm as far as town infrastructure goes.”

“I mean, it's certainly not a Hurricane Sandy. It's also not even close to some of the strong winter storms we got back in 2018,” Berman added. “So I mean, this is certainly a moderate storm, but not to the degree of some of the other ones we've seen lately."

Update, 8:44 a.m., Sunday

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is reporting 57,132 customers without power this morning.

Power outages as of 8:30am on Sunday.
Power outages as of 8:30am on Sunday.

Snowfall totals around Cape Cod are in the 13-inch range, according to the National Weather Service. However, Bourne was an outlier with a total of 20 inches.

Update, 4:48 p.m. Saturday

Report by Jennette Barnes

A small number of people have made their way to the emergency shelters on Cape Cod amid continued power outages from the blizzard.

“It's going well,” said Erika Woods, deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment. She was staffing a shelter at the Barnstable Intermediate School.

Scenes from the county storm shelter at Barnstable Intermediate School.
Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment
Scenes from the county storm shelter at Barnstable Intermediate School.

“We have about seven people here right now,” she said. “They're slowly filtering in, and obviously the travel is very tough out there. So we're just hoping that people stay safe trying to get here.”

The Intermediate School can accommodate at least 100 people on cots in the gym, she said. At some points during the day, the school lost power, but the generator was working. By mid afternoon, normal power had been restored.

Power outages remain widespread across the Cape, South Coast, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Woods said the shelters will remain open as long as people need them.

“It's a little too early for Eversource to be able to give us an estimate on when they'll be able to restore power,” she said. “Obviously, in these winds, and with the blowing snow, they really can't get up in the bucket trucks to do a lot of the work. So it's going to depend on when they can get things up and running.”

The shelters have heat, food, and charging stations.

Shelter staff include members of AmeriCorps Cape Cod and the all-volunteer Medical Reserve Corps, among others.

AmeriCorps members at the shelter.
Credit: Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment
AmeriCorps members at the shelter.

In addition to the Barnstable Intermediate School, public shelters are open at Falmouth High School and Nauset Regional High School.

The headquarters of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has opened as a shelter for members of the tribe.

Update, 2:24 p.m. Saturday

Report by Eve Zuckoff

The storm is triggering alarms about flooding and erosion in Massachusetts coastal communities.

On Nantucket, large parts of Easy Street and Washington Street were inundated by early Saturday, and reports of flooding spread throughout the region. Additional flooding was reported everywhere from the Town Neck Beach area in Sandwich to downtown Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard.

By mid-morning, officials in Chatham said low-lying areas were getting hit hard.

“We have significant flooding at the fish pier and east-facing beaches and town landings,” said Chatham harbormaster Stewart Smith. “We have some pretty good erosion taking place from what we can see. Our next concern of course, will be the tide later on this evening.”

The first high tide of the day for Cape Cod Bay was around 8:13 a.m. and was predicted to be 11 feet, about a foot higher than the average high tide. But Greg Berman, a coastal processes specialist with Woods Hole Sea Grant and the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, says it saw a two-and-a-half-foot storm surge in many areas.

“Actually, right now, we have a two-and-a-half-foot surge, which means the water level is two and a half feet higher than the predicted tides based on astronomic values,” Berman said. “Just for comparison sake … Hurricane Sandy had about a four-and-a-half-foot surge. and some of the fairly strong other winter storms, like back in 2018, had about a four-and-a-half-foot surge,”

Smith, the Chatham harbormaster, warned that the next high tide, which will take place around 9:00 p.m., could bring additional flooding.

“You know with these types of storms it’s likely the tide won’t go out very much so the next tide cycle is going to be interesting,” he said.

The low pressure and winds, which have been recorded at up to 70 miles per hour in some parts of the region, don’t allow the tide to escape harbors, inlets, and bays.

“You only have a certain amount of water that can flow out or in a given time,” Berman explained. Winds will “push water up into the bay and not allow water to come out of the bay. So you get the tides kind of stacking up on each other.”

Whether the water can escape will depend on how long the winds push water up against the shoreline. Either way, conservation managers across the region say erosion is surely underway and likely the worst of it came this morning. The only question is how much of the coastline will be gone when the storm passes.

Update, 11:20 a.m. Saturday

Nearly all of Provincetown is without power and other Cape Cod communities are showing 50% or more customers without power. As of 11:20 a.m on Saturday, Eversource is reporting these power outages on Cape Cod:

Barnstable: 50.88%
Bourne: 6.79%
Brewster: 24.59%
Chatham: 86.60%
Dennis: 3.81%
Eastham: 58.10%
Falmouth: 58.64%
Harwich: 17.89%
Mashpee: 10.83%
Orleans: 59.49%
Provincetown: 99.68%
Sandwich: 13.87%
Truro: 28.44%
Wellfleet: 66.49%
Yarmouth: 14.43%

CAI listener Jack Stanton shares this video from the West End of Provincetown of high tide.

Update, 7:18 a.m. Saturday

The National Weather Service warns of local whiteouts and urges people not to travel.

The risk for coastal flooding has increased around the Saturday morning high tide. Coastal Flood Warnings are now in effect, with as much as two feet of inundation above ground level expected for coastal roads on Cape Cod and the Islands.

NWS Boston

Wind gusts will continue to increase, peaking late Saturday morning into the afternoon. Near hurricane-force gusts of 74 mph or greater are possible across Cape Cod.

A blizzard is headed straight for Cape Cod and the Islands.

The National Weather Service says that the storm is expected to hit around midnight tonight, bringing 1 to 2 feet of snow, northeast winds higher than 60 miles per hour, and potential flooding.

Weather Service meteorologist Bryce Williams says to hunker down.

"We're encouraging people to stay inside if they can, to stay off the roads," Williams says. "Because not only are we dealing with snow, we're dealing with really strong winds which has prompted us to issue a blizzard warning for the region, including Martha's Vineyard and the Cape."

Snowfall forecast from the National Weather Service.
National Weather Service
Snowfall forecast from the National Weather Service.

With the heavy snow and strong winds, there is a likelihood of power outages. Barnstable County and island officials are reminding residents to charge up their phones, and to make sure they have enough wood if they have a wood stove or fireplace.

Williams says the storm could also bring flooding along the coast, except for along the South Coast.

"The South Coast should be spared this time, but we are looking at several high tide cycles, starting with Saturday morning."

The storm is expected to arrive at midnight, and slow down Sunday night. Sunday will be cold, but sunny.

Power outages along the Cape, South Coast and Islands are possible. Eversource has a power outage map here and you can report power outages here. On Nantucket, National Grid is the provider and lists its power outages here.

Emergency Shelter to Open

Emergency shelters will be opening on Cape Cod for people who need a safe place to go during the storm. But officials say the pandemic makes the shelter system more challenging.

Shelters will open at Barnstable Intermediate School, Nauset High School, and Falmouth High School.

Barnstable County officials say storm shelters are an important safeguard for the elderly and others who lose heat or power.

To avoid crowding during the pandemic, county spokeswoman Bethany Traverse says people should check for alternatives before heading to a shelter.

"We want to ask that if you think that you might not be safe in your home and you might need to stay somewhere else that you reach out to friends or family members, if at all possible. We know it's not possible for everyone."

She says if you go, bring three days of essentials, including medications, portable cribs, baby food and diapering supplies.

Medical oxygen is allowed in the shelters, and pets are welcome as well.

National Seashore

Brian Carlstrom, superintendent of Cape Cod National Seashore, says his team has prepared as best they can. Now, he’s issuing a word of caution.

"Kind of a way to think of this is a frozen hurricane, in a way. So if it seems scary, it is."

His advice: Be prepared, pay attention to the forecasts, and, most importantly, stay off the roads.

"All our buildings have been pretty substantially weather tested in the past, but that combination of wind, with snow load, and changing temperatures can really cause some problems for us," adds Carlstrom.

With extreme marine conditions and 20 foot waves, Carlstrom says he’s expecting severe beach erosion on a number of beaches.