Looking back on ‘40 minutes of terror’

Hurricane Bob packed a punch 30 years ago.


Hurricane Bob walloped the Vineyard 30 years ago this week. The hurricane ate through beaches, ripped apart trees, cast ashore vessels, and left the Island without power. Up-Island towns and Edgartown got the worst of the storm, while Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs received a lesser drubbing. Nevertheless, damage was everywhere. 

Gusts in Edgartown reached 111 mph. Those gusts would help propel the sloop Moxie into several other boats before it crashed into a dock along Edgartown Harbor. 

Longtime Edgartown Harbormaster Charlie Blair described the height of the storm as “40 minutes of terror.” Blair said the storm beached a great number of boats, “some with their 4,000-pound moorings still attached.”

Blair recalled the sloop Claire wound up in the pool of the Harborside Inn. He said he spent two days hauling boats off the beach. 

At one point during his toil with vessels, Blair recalled receiving unexpected refreshments. Joyce Greene, he said, whose husband ran Edgartown Marine, brought out a silver tray of little watercress sandwiches with the crusts cut off. 

“Boy, that was nice,” he said. 

“Hurricane Bob brought sustained hurricane-force winds to the immediate coastal communities of Rhode Island and most of southeast Massachusetts,” a National Weather Service (NWS) post states. “Strong tropical storm–force winds blew across the remainder of the region, with many areas receiving gusts to hurricane force east of the Connecticut River. Wind damage to trees and utility poles was common, and resulted in numerous power outages. Over 60 percent of the residents across southeast Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts lost power.”

The Vineyard, as the Times reported in 1991, didn’t lose power due to storm damage, ComElectric (the predecessor to Eversource) cut the power ahead of the storm as a safety precaution. Low-lying areas were evacuated, and a driving ban for all Vineyard roads was ordered. 

Clarissa Allen, whose family has owned a seaside farm in Chilmark for generations, recalled the waves that pounded Lucy Vincent Beach. “The eastern end of Vincent Beach, the surf was so heavy it washed into upper Chilmark Pond,” she said.

“Hurricane Bob developed in the central Bahamas on August 16, then steadily intensified and reached hurricane status on the evening of August 17,” according to the NWS. “Bob continued to strengthen during the next 48 hours, as it began an acceleration north-northeastward, paralleling the East Coast. The eye of Hurricane Bob passed over Block Island, R.I., at approximately 1:30 pm, and made landfall over Newport, R.I., shortly before 2 pm. 

Longtime tree worker Bob Hagerty said the hurricane made a huge mess. “1:30 in the afternoon, all hell broke loose,” he said. “That was a lot of work.”

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Chilmark select board member Bill Rossi said. Rossi owned a landscaping and tree company back then. Rossi said he was home with his pregnant wife when the phone started ringing for tree work. He said he got so much work he ordered a new wood chipper, and was able to get it delivered in two days. However, it was a week until he had electricity back in his home, he said. 

“You couldn’t get down Middle Road,” he said. “You couldn’t get down North Road.”

He described North Road near Seven Gates Farm as “like a war zone.”

“It was a massive effort just to get the roads cleared,” he said.

At private residences he worked at, Rossi said, he and his crew were able to tip back upright uprooted trees using cables. “We saved a lot of large trees,” he said. He added that many remain healthy today.

The cutting work, however, he described as grueling and “not fun,” due to the way trees broke and fell.

Rossi summed up by saying he was “not looking forward to seeing anything like it again.”

“Hurricane Bob caused a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet along the Rhode Island shore, but drove a surge of 10 to 15 feet into Buzzards Bay,” according to the NWS. “The Buzzards Bay shore east to Cape Cod was hardest hit. The highest surges, of 12 to 15 feet, were observed in Onset, Bourne, Mashpee, and Wareham, at the head of Buzzards Bay. Cove Road, in Mattapoisett, had 29 of 37 homes destroyed, while Angelica Point lost 32 of 35 homes along the shore. Boat damage was significant, as many boats were torn from their moorings. Extensive beach erosion occurred along the shore from Westerly, R.I., eastward. Some south-facing beach locations on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands lost up to 50 feet of beach to erosion.”

West Tisbury town moderator Dan Waters recalled how the storm desiccated foliage. “It made the whole north side of the Island brown as a grocery bag,” Water said.

Cronig’s owner Steve Bernier said the combination of a low-rain hurricane and salty wind was what did foliage in. Bernier recalled being in between registers watching the wind “bend and bow” the gable end of his store “three, four, five inches.”

Bernier said one has to appreciate it was the height of the tourist season, and the Vineyard was packed. “Everybody was in panic mode,” he said. With the ferries halted, folks were stuck, he said. “We already had trailers coming with product, but the store had no power,” he said. Bernier recalled his store was without electricity for five to six days, while his home in Chilmark was without electricity for eight days.

Typical perishable food wasn’t what his store needed after the storm, he said. It needed ice and water.

“It was crazy,” he said. “Jackie O came in with a red kerchief, and asked, ‘Why are you out of batteries?’” He said she apologized after she realized why they were all gone.

Eventually, Bernier, said his store was bringing whole trailerloads of water to the Island. 

While no deaths occurred on the Vineyard, the hurricane proved fatal elsewhere. “Bob was responsible for 17 deaths along the Eastern Seaboard. In southern New England, six deaths occurred in Connecticut,” according to the NWS. “This includes two children who died from a fire started by a candle.”

Total damage in southern New England was approximately $680 million, the weather service reported.


  1. Here’s what I recall of Bob’s visit in 1991.

    The forecast had said that Bob was going ashore in NC so I wasn’t worried, but then it bounced off that coast and headed straight for us on Sunday afternoon, giving us only short notice–it was to hit us Monday morning. Unlike Jackie O I found some batteries that morning, and some nonperishable food at the Up-Island market. I vividly remember standing in line at the checkout counter with some people buying perishable food (why?) and one man holding up a package of cookies, announcing to all, “Pepperidge Farm, the official cookie of Hurricane Bob,” which made everyone laugh.

    My house in WT survived relatively intact (the door to the outdoor shower blew off and I lost some shingles from the roof), but the wind and the blowing trees were scary enough that I retreated to the basement for the duration. Because of my location I fortunately only lost power for 23 hours. As Dan Waters said, the foliage on the trees turned brown after the storm.

    WMVY was wonderful throughout the storm. They played wind music (“They Call the Wind Maria,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” among others), but also kept us updated on the storm’s progress and duration. So we could save radio battery power, they would announce when the next update would come so you could turn the radio off in the interim, although listening to the music was fun. Thanks, belatedly, WMVY!

  2. One thing I remember really clearly was all the angry insects whose homes had been destroyed when the trees fell! It seemed like there were buzzing stinging insects everywhere for the first few days!

    • Gayle– I clearly remember about the bees.
      I put a few tablespoons of butter on a few boards and placed them away from where I went back and forth. They swarmed to it, got the necessary fats they needed and left me alone.

  3. Trinity Church, on the Campground, opened its kitchen to everyone, harking back to the early days and the Campmeeting’s Society Tent. We had gas stoves and church members opened up early so folks could make their coffee and cook breakfast. Sunset Lake had merged with the harbor, so we had to travel up and around to get to the church!
    Quite an interesting introduction to a pastorate which had begun June 23.
    Mary-Jean Miner
    Her late husband, the Reverend Kenneth L. Miner, was pastor of Trinity from June of 1991 to May of 1997

  4. I do remember the yellow jackets going crazy as they lost all their nests. Also remember a weird site with my apple tree having ripe apples that did not get blown off the tree right next to Apple blossoms. The storm made the tree think it went through winter.

  5. The Aug 19 th 11 am update from the national Hurricane center put the vineyard in the projected path of Hurricane Henri.

    Note that Bob was the second named storm of the year..
    Henri is the 8 th .

    Any questions about the claims of the climate scientist that we will get more hurricanes ?

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