Martha’s Vineyard hunkers down under blizzard’s onslaught

Gannon and Benjamin boatyard in Vineyard Haven was weathering the storm Tuesday. Photo by Steve Myrick.

Updated 2 pm, Tuesday

The first significant blizzard to strike Martha’s Vineyard in years arrived Monday night with driving snow and wind gusts of hurricane force. The light of day Tuesday revealed deep, drifting snow and roadways that were nearly impassable for all but the heaviest vehicles.

Those who did venture out reported hazardous driving conditions. About 11 am, emergency management officials closed Beach Road between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, due to flooding.

Superintendent of Schools James Weiss announced Tuesday that schools would remain closed Wednesday.

Tisbury and Oak Bluffs also announced town offices and buildings would remain closed Wednesday. A Tisbury parking ban will also remain in effect.

Local and state highway crews were out in force through the night, plowing main roadways. Highway crews focused on main routes, to keep at least one roadway clear for emergency vehicles.

Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency, and instituted a ban on driving that went into effect at midnight. Early Tuesday, two vehicles were off the road and stuck on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road at about 7:30 am, causing problems for plow-truck drivers for a short time.

Utility repair crews, including some called in from off-Island before the storm, were out on the roads, but there were very few outages reported. Heavy winds hampered the crew’s ability to use elevated buckets.

NSTAR reported seven customers without power in West Tisbury, and eight customers without power in Oak Bluffs, at 10:45 am Tuesday.

There was some coastal flooding along north- and east-facing shorelines, especially in the usual places vulnerable during storms. Salt spray washed over the sea wall on Sea View Avenue in Oak Bluffs, near Farm Pond. The roadway was flooded and all but impassable on the causeway near the Lagoon Pond drawbridge in Vineyard Haven.

Snow depths varied greatly, because of blowing and drifting snow. In some areas, most of the snow blew away, leaving patches of bare ground. On one side street in Oak Bluffs, one lane was plowed, leaving snow banks of three to five feet on either side.

Latest forecast

Steady gale-force winds battered the Island overnight and into the morning. At about 9 am, the National Weather Service recorded sustained winds of 31 miles per hour, with gusts up to 58 miles per hour. At about 2 am, sustained winds were measured at 44 miles per hour, with gusts up to 67 miles per hour.

The National Weather Service predicted the worst of the storm will be through this afternoon, then diminish tonight. Northeast winds from 35 to 45 miles per hour are expected to continue, with gusts between 65 and 75 mph through early afternoon.

“All unnecessary travel is discouraged,” the National Weather Service said. “This is a serious, life-threatening storm.”

All quiet at shelter

As the wind howled outside, the Tisbury School gymnasium was eerily dark and empty early Tuesday morning, and only a few of the 30 cots looked like they had been slept in last night. In the school cafeteria, the volunteers outnumbered the evacuees. Only two people sought shelter last night, according to volunteer Brian Kennedy of Oak Bluffs. “We have 11 volunteers from the Island and four Red Cross staff on hand,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We fed eight off-Island utility crews earlier in the morning. The crews were notified that conditions were too dangerous to go out, and went back to their hotel until further instructions.”

Mr. Kennedy said the volunteers had just completed a call with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), and were told all of Nantucket had lost power and it would be days before power is restored: “We’ve been very lucky that the power has stayed on for the most part. We’re in a lot better shape than Nantucket, that’s for sure.”

The shelter will remain open until 10 am, Wednesday.

Kept busy

Emergency responders were kept busy throughout the morning responding to reports of stuck vehicles and house alarms.

Firefighters were alerted to a call of a carbon monoxide alarm at a house on North Neck Road on Chappaquiddick. The 911 dispatcher reported that the responding firefighter had found the road impassable “so he’s going to walk in.”

About one-half hour later, the firefighter reported back, “Nothing showing at that residence.”

An anxious husband called 911 to report that his wife had left her vehicle and was on skis in the Long Point section of West Tisbury, intending to ski to the caretaker’s cottage at the Trustees property, but had texted him to say she felt like going to sleep. Rescue personnel responded, battling deep snow, and later reported that the woman had arrived.

Island prepared

Storm preparations began in earnest on Monday.

Following a meeting of of Island public-safety officials called to discuss the approaching blizzard, Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools James Weiss announced that all afterschool activities were canceled, and that school was canceled Tuesday.

Edgartown and Tisbury announced parking bans on town streets.

The Steamship Authority announced it was operating on a trip-by-trip basis, and would suspend service on Tuesday. By 6 pm the boats had ceased to run.

As the storm began to intensify, Island residents began receiving automated calls as part of the county’s Code Red warning system. The recorded message advised Islanders what to do to prepare, and announced the opening of a shelter at the Tisbury School gym.