The first report of a tornado touching down on Cape Cod came shortly after noon on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 – a natural disaster striking with no warning at the height of the summer tourist season.
By 1pm our reporter was on the scene in Yarmouth, where the tornado had torn off a portion of a hotel roof.
Fortunately – and, seemingly, improbably – no one was hurt. But buildings were damaged and power was knocked out to more than 30,000 homes and businesses. The damage to power infrastructure was severe enough that many would be without electricity for days. That meant no air conditioning and no lights at hotels and summer rentals, no cash registers for businesses. And it was a blow to the Cape's tourist-focused economy and image, which was already suffering from a nationally reported fatal shark attack.
For WCAI, part of the challenge reporting this story was to balance the factors involved as we worked to get accurate news of the event out to listeners as quickly as possible. We had no experience with tornadoes. The damage from a tornado is so localized that, just one town over, it was hard to imagine that anything was amiss. And town officials quickly discovered the damage was more widespread than initially perceived. Eventually, the governor arrived and activated the Massachusetts National Guard to assist in the clean-up.
At the height of the summer, towns employees and staffs were already deployed full-force to meet the demands of a seasonal population that swells to 5 times the size of the winter population.
After a day, the National Weather Service announced that there had actually been two tornadoes. After a week, it would announce that there were really three separate tornadoes that touched down that afternoon.
The news coverage didn't end with the initial event, but required following the story as it shifted from a weather event to one of homes and businesses struggling without electricity, and towns with resources stretched to the limits.
Our reporters drove to the towns with the most damage and provided consistent, timely updates during the assessment and recovery process. They did two-way interviews with our show hosts and provided news spots on efforts to restore power and clean up.
The audio file above is a montage of our on-air coverage.
Additionally WCAI was on social media and posting to its website with the latest information.
Other tornado coverage by WCAI can be found here: