Updated 3 pm
The Vineyard was snapped to attention Tuesday morning as phones beeped with an alarm from the National Weather Service that warned of a potential tornado at 11:15 am, urging people to take cover through 11:45 am. Strong winds and pounding rain materialized briefly, snapping tree limbs, knocking out power, and causing traffic jams across the Island. There were no reports of injuries.
Brad Tucker watched the storm from behind a screen window at his home on Bishops Cove Road in Tisbury. His house looks west onto Lake Tashmoo, where the wind was roiling the waters. Tucker said he “usually enjoys a good storm, but holy sh_t, this was insane!”
“On the other side of the lake, I saw the front come right across, and 100 yards behind there was a waterspout.”
Tucker reported watching a 15-foot boat get pulled under the waves. “A small Whaler was out there getting whipped around, and it snapped off the mooring, flipped sideways, and went under. A couple guys just hauled it out.”
West Tisbury resident J.R. Thomas was out on the Tashmoo Beach jetty fishing for bonito and albies: “All of a sudden the wind picked up. I looked behind me, and before, where you can usually spot the Tisbury water tower, was completely blocked out by a black-greenish cloud.” Thomas said he didn’t know about the forecast before going out.
“I didn’t realize what it was until the tornado warning came on my phone,” he said. Thomas stayed on the jetty until the wind picked up to what he thought was “50 to 60 miles per hour.” Then he ran onto the beach and hid from the gusts behind a lifeguard stand. Several seconds later, Thomas sprinted for his truck and slammed the door. “[The wind] threw the lifeguard stand over where I was just standing,” he said. Thomas said he hopes to “never experience something like that again.”
Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker and local mariner Jeff Cahna separately told The Times a sailboat owned by Frank Brunelle lost its mast while moored by the Vineyard Haven Harbor breakwater. Crocker said the dismasted vessel was a sloop. With its mast and rigging in the water, Crocker deemed it a hazard to navigation, and said his staff would likely motor alongside the sloop and pull the mast and rigging from the harbor.
Oak Bluffs harbormaster Todd Alexander said an unoccupied sailboat grounded on Eastville Beach after it dragged its anchor. “Nobody was expecting that wind,” he said.
After the weather calms down, Alexander said he expects the owner to remove the vessel from the beach.
Capt. Randy Jardin was at the helm of the tugboat Thuban, pushing a barge toward Woods Hole, when he and his crew met the storm. Jardin said he never saw rain come so instantaneously. Wind hit the tug and barge so fiercely it began to shift the course, and Jardin opted to reverse direction and head back to Vineyard Haven for safety’s sake. Jardin said he and his crew witnessed a circular phenomenon over the water that appeared to be a waterspout forming.
According to a spokesman for the National Weather Service in Norton, Martha’s Vineyard’s maximum recorded gust was 69 mph.
“It went from 10 to 70 mph in a matter of seconds,” Tucker said. “Definitely hurricane-force winds. I was born and raised here, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I was definitely more concerned than I’ve ever been.”
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning at about 10:15 am Tuesday. The warning was issued through 11:45 am for the fast-moving storm.
It was the second warning in about 12 hours for the Vineyard and Cape Cod. The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in Yarmouth on the Cape, blowing off a roof at a motel, and causing trees to be uprooted.
There were scattered power outages across the Island, and reports of trees down.
At Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the older buildings (wings) were evacuated, Denise Schepici, the hospital’s CEO, confirmed in an email. Patients, visitors, staff were moved to the main building and radiology corridors, away from windows, she wrote.
“Some areas sheltered in place per protocol, away from glass windows,” Schepici wrote. “Fortunately it cleared quickly, and there were no injuries, but it was pretty alarming at first. Nothing like a real-time evacuation drill to keep it interesting!”
Chris Koban wrote on our Facebook page that patrons at Martha’s Vineyard Museum were ushered to the basement during the threat. “We were in the new M.V. Museum (which is great), and everybody retreated to the basement. The museum flag was blown half off the pole,” he wrote.
Katy Fuller, operations manager at the museum, said there were about 200 people, including a children’s camp, at the museum at the time. “We figured with that giant glass pavilion, it would probably be a good idea,” Fuller said of moving folks to the basement.
At Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, a meeting of the facilities subcommittee continued on even after people’s phones warned of possible tornadoes, according to a Times reporter at the meeting.
In West Tisbury, between 100 and 150 people were in the library when the storm hit, according to West Tisbury Free Public Library director Beth Kramer.
“The library was not notified there was a tornado [warning],” Kramer said, though some folks did receive alerts via cell phone. Those people weathered the storm in the library, she said, but after the emergency generator failed, she requested they exit the building. At that time, she said, the sun had come out. Because running water, including water for toilets, was kaput, board of health regulations stipulated she must clear the building, she said. About 20 minutes after she closed the library, Kramer said, power returned.
In Oak Bluffs, emergency crews responded to smoldering wire on Newton Road near Worcester Avenue. Fire Chief John Rose was keeping people away from the area in case the high-voltage wire fell on the damp road.
Alison Simon said a sizable maple tree branch snapped and landed on the roof of her Campground gingerbread house porch. “Our windows were rattling and the lights were flickering,” she told The Times. She and her daughter screamed when they heard the tree crack. The porch sustained only minimal damage to the roof and one flower box.
The Steamship Authority delayed boats during Tuesday’s threat, according to a tweet. As of 12:15 pm Tuesday, the SSA tweeted that all boats were back in service.
Two ferries that were already underway after the warning was issued stayed on their crossings, Sean Driscoll, a spokesman for the SSA, wrote in an email. “The Governor was already underway, so the order was given to slow its approach to Woods Hole until the weather passed,” he wrote. “A similar approach was taken with the Nantucket, which was also underway to Oak Bluffs at the time.”
There were tree limbs down blocking the road on Spring Street near the Tisbury Waterworks. The road was blocked in both directions.
In West Tisbury, police reported that there were trees down on Lambert’s Cove Road, and it was closed in the Manaquayak Road area until the debris was cleared.
State Road was blocked headed toward West Tisbury. There was also traffic gridlock in Tisbury, where there was a tree down near Woodland Market, and another tree down on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road.
Carla Boyd, an employee at Main Street Convenience store in Vineyard Haven, watched out the storefront as window shoppers scurried and took cover. “Nobody was out on the sidewalk. I could see the trees blowing around, and I stayed inside.”
Fifteen minutes after the worst of the storm, people were back to strolling down Main Street, unfazed.
“Every once in awhile, Mother Nature wags her finger and reminds us that she’s running the show. But once you get to my age, you’re not afraid of anything,” said John Nourse, a seasonal Vineyard Haven resident.
Updated with more details since first posting the warning at 11:20 am. Reporters Brian Dowd, Lucas Thors, Rich Saltzberg, and intern Amanda Cronin contributed to this report.