Epic blizzard departs Vineyard, leaving a massive cleanup job

More than two feet of snow in some spots left emergency responders and road crews stretched to the limit.

Seven year old Henry Wansiewicz launches his sled off a man-made ramp at Lagoon Pond on Wednesday afternoon. — Photo by Michael Cummo

After two days and nights of howling winds, driving snow, and way too much time watching snow live shots on Boston TV stations, Islanders began the massive job of digging out from an epic blizzard that dropped a blanket of snow over Martha’s Vineyard.

According to National Weather Service observers, the storm dumped 27 inches of snow in Oak Bluffs, and 20 inches of snow in Edgartown. The wind carved out random aberrations. Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs was blown nearly bare, down to the frozen grass. Six short blocks away, on Nantucket Avenue, police reported drifts topping eight feet at the height of the storm.

At 9 pm Monday night, northeast winds picked up to a steady 32 mph on the Island, lashing the shoreline with gusts of 44 mph. In the early-morning hours of Tuesday, winds peaked at a sustained 44 mph, with gusts recorded at 67 mph, a bit less than hurricane force. Martha’s Vineyard experienced blizzard conditions, sustained winds exceeding 35 mph and visibility frequently less than a quarter-mile, for 24 consecutive hours.

The temperature at the beginning of the storm was 31 degrees, but fell steadily to 15 degrees before the storm wound down. Driving winds forced the wind-chill factor to dangerous levels.

Coastal flooding was not as severe as feared, with salt spray washing over the seawalls near Farm Pond in Oak Bluffs, the causeway near the Lagoon Pond drawbridge in Vineyard Haven, and minor flooding on Dock Street in Edgartown, all spots frequently vulnerable to less severe ocean storms.

Colder than forecast temperatures made for lighter than expected snow, which helped keep power outages to a minimum. NSTAR positioned additional utility repair crews on the Island before the storm, but there were only a handful of outages. NSTAR reported seven customers without power in West Tisbury, and eight customers without power in Oak Bluffs, midway through the storm. Only two customers remained without power Wednesday morning.


On Wednesday morning, most main roads were plowed and sanded, but town highway crews struggled to clear secondary roads. Police scanners cackled with several calls for help from police and emergency medical personnel trying to check on elderly residents, who could not get through on unplowed roads.

In Vineyard Haven Wednesday morning, a three-foot ridge of snow divided Main Street into two barely passable lanes. At least two vehicles got stuck, blocking traffic for a short time. A Dukes County Communications Center dispatcher issued an advisory, asking fire trucks and ambulances to avoid Main Street.

“We have to contain the snow, so we can shovel it out of there,” said Tisbury department of public works director Glenn Mauk. “There is a lot of snow, and people driving makes it a lot harder for us.” A parking ban for Tisbury streets, which began at 6 pm Monday evening, was still in effect Wednesday morning.

First responders

Most drivers heeded a driving ban imposed as part of a state of emergency declared by Governor Charlie Baker, in effect from 6 pm Monday evening to midnight Tuesday. Even with few vehicles on the road, conditions still made it very difficult for road crews to work, and very difficult for first responders to get to people who needed help during the storm.

On Tuesday, 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.”

Also Tuesday, 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.

An ambulance got stuck in the snow on a call to a residence on West Chop, and needed help from another emergency medical vehicle to get the patient to the hospital.

Quiet shelter

Unlike past weather emergencies, the Island’s emergency management directors coordinated resources to open one shelter at the Tisbury School, instead of separate shelters in each town. The shelter was mostly dark and empty early Tuesday morning, with only a few of the 30 cots used overnight. Two people sought shelter Monday evening, according to volunteer Brian Kennedy of Oak Bluffs. “We have 11 volunteers from the Island and four Red Cross staff on hand,” Mr. Kennedy told The Times on Tuesday morning. “We fed eight off-Island utility crews earlier in the morning.”


The storm prompted school superintendent James Weiss to cancel all Island schools on Tuesday, Wednesday and again on Thursday. Mr. Weiss said roads remained very slipper prompting him to cancel school a third day.

The Steamship Authority stopped running boats at 6 pm Monday evening as the weather worsened, and did not resume service until Wednesday morning.

Most businesses closed Tuesday. The few stalwarts included the Stop and Shop and Cumberland Farms.

The Dukes County courthouse was closed Tuesday and Wednesday, as were most Island town offices.