Blizzard buries Martha’s Vineyard

Outages, Steamship halt, grounded schooner punctuate storm.

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A nor’easter that carpeted the Vineyard Saturday with over a foot of snow has been classified as a blizzard by the National Weather Service. The blizzard knocked out electricity to thousands of homes, and triggered a cessation of all Steamship Authority service on Saturday. On Chappaquiddick, the whole island went dark, and the Chappy Ferry stopped service for part of Saturday. 

The deepest snow reported on the Vineyard was 18 inches in West Tisbury, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Andy Nash. Nash said overall, the Vineyard reported depths of 14 to 18 inches. The highest wind measurement reported on the Vineyard was 67 mph. 

The ferocious storm canceled activities and forced most businesses to close their doors Saturday.

Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty said Chappaquiddick was without power for approximately 24 hours. Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells opted to suspend service until about 5 pm Saturday, Hagerty said, due to the violence of the storm. Thereafter the Chappy Ferry was ready to bring over anybody who wanted to take advantage of an emergency shelter Edgartown set up, Hagerty said; however, there were no takers.

Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll said based on the forecast, the ferry line pre-emptively halted service all day Saturday. Driscoll said even if the winds had died down later in the day, there was too much risk of snow impediments at the terminals and of employees and crew members having travel issues due to the storm. On Sunday, the MV Nantucket was sidelined for the morning, Driscoll said. This was due to extra hours unexpectedly expended by the chief engineer of the vessel. Because Woods Hole lost power and the SSA had no shore power to draw from, Driscoll said, the chief engineer was up all night running a generator for the ferry. This exhausted his allotment of service hours. It took time to muster a replacement engineer for the ferry, Driscoll said.

Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz said the Dukes County Sheriff’s Department activated its emergency operations center, and Oak Bluffs had a direct line in. This helped redirect nonemergency calls, and took pressure off dispatchers, Chief Wirtz said. “It worked very, very well,” he said.

A regional shelter was opened in the Oak Bluffs School, he said, “ready to accept up to 300 people.” In all, four people took advantage of the shelter, he said. 

There were no major incidents in town, he said, and not much significant tree damage. Chief Wirtz said the October nor’easter was much worse both in the damage caused to trees and in outages.

West Tisbury Police Chief Matt Mincone said first responders headed out onto Edgartown–West Tisbury road in the blizzard for a motor vehicle incident. The call turned into an OUI arrest for a Vineyard Haven man, allegedly his second. The man, who wasn’t injured, got his vehicle hung up on a rock. 

In Aquinnah, Fire Chief Simon Bollin reported no major incidents beyond power outages. 

Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren reported a busy but uneventful day of work for his officers.

“Officers were kept busy assisting utility crews and a few motorists that slid off the road or got stuck,” Chief Klaren emailed. “Police also worked with the Chilmark Fire Department keeping tabs on our elderly/at-risk residents.”

In Vineyard Haven, police were busy helping residents. “During the storm, the day and evening shift officers made at least 13 checks of elderly residents, performed a motor vehicle lockout, and shoveled snow off a resident’s porch area,” Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost emailed. “Beach and Lagoon Pond Roads were closed for about 2½ hours in the morning during the high tide.”

Tisbury Police also reported a schooner aground to Tisbury’s harbor department, Chief Habekost said. 

That schooner, the 42-foot, 18-ton Tangier, tore from her mooring during the blizzard and blew aground between the Tisbury Shell Station and Tisbury Wharf. On Monday, owner Carlton Sprague told The Times the blizzard “pulled the cleat right out of the boat.” Sprague said the town mooring didn’t fail. “All the lines are still attached to the town mooring,” he said.

Sprague said he’d only bought the schooner a year earlier, and was “shocked it happened.”

“We tried to flip it last night, 10-11 o’clock — we didn’t make it,” he said. Sprague said the attempt was made using a truck within a line attached to it. Fear of snapping a mast halted the attempt, he said.

Part of the problem, Sprague said, is the Tangier appears to be in a hole in the harbor bed, making it more difficult to haul it upright. Another attempt is planned for Tuesday morning with a tugboat, he said.

Once the schooner is righted, Sprague said it will go to nearby Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard to be hauled out on the shipyard’s new 50-ton lift. The primary reason for this will be to inspect the hull, he said. The schooner has filled with water, he said, but it hasn’t risen high enough to destroy the electronics. However, cushions and a sofa are now bloated, and he said it’ll be a chore to extract them. 

Sprague said the Tangier is a storied vessel, built in Maine in 1925, and has journeyed to the Arctic several times, and has also served as a research vessel and helped collect data for an early cruising guide. 

Sprague tipped his hat to Tisbury’s harbormaster. “I can’t say enough about John Crocker being very attentive, helpful,” he said.

Crocker told The Times he will be onsite for the salvage operation on Tuesday.

In Lake Tashmoo, the 23-foot fiberglass sloop Eleanora broke from its mooring and washed onto the western shore. Owner David Stanwood said the storm “was so fierce” that despite chaffing gear, the mooring line chaffed through. Stanwood said the Eleanora didn’t have an engine or many other standard trappings, calling it a “true sailboat.” He said the sloop will likely be “retired” soon, but salvaged sooner. 

Some folks opted to ride out the blizzard in local hotels rather than risk getting stranded on the Island’s many long dirt roads. The Mansion House was at full capacity with a mix of Islanders, Eversource workers, hospital employees, and people who found themselves stuck on-Island. 

Caretaker Christina Christensen said she booked a Mansion House room for herself and her client ahead of the storm.

“All of Vineyard Haven is without power,” Christensen said at 12 pm. “The hotel shares a grid with the hospital, so there’s some hospital staff here, dozens of Eversource workers. We met a couple of guys that were here from Chappy with their dog.”

On Sunday, the Vineyard began to dig itself out. Snow shovels were ubiquitous in driveways and along Main Street in Vineyard Haven, where business owners worked to clear the way to commerce after being shuttered on Saturday. 

While Sunday proved a chore-filled day for adults, kids saw it differently. Out came the sleds, up went the snowmen. At the Tashmoo Overlook and Tisbury Meadow, available parking spaces were few and far between as parents let kids loose on the hillsides. 

9 COMMENTS

  1. All newspapers love to exaggerate top wind speeds citing NWS reports. NWS gets its readings from many uncalibrated private weather instruments, including my own. I believe the only calibrated anemometer on the Vineyard is at the airport. That is the only official wind speed indicator. So for the next storm please cite that reading. Sorry if it is much lower than you hoped for.

    • All newspapers love to exaggerate is indeed an exaggeration on your part. If you’re suggesting your own wind results aren’t accurate why report them to the National Weather Service?

    • Paul– The Times accurately reported what the national weather service reported.
      I think that’s what newspapers are supposed to do. Where is the exaggeration ?
      If you know your anemometer is inaccurate, please don’t report your “fake” data to the NWS.
      But, I am curious.. What did the airport anemometer record ?

      • This from the airport manager: “The wind monitoring is via the National Weather Service. We don’t retain the information and all the crews were away from the monitor in the office.”

      • I never said my anemometer was inaccurate I said it was not calibrated since installation. The NWS sometimes takes the
        Average of all reporting stations, using mostly uncalibrated anemometers. Sometimes they only report the highest reading. Anyone can sign up. There is a 45 page technical book on calibration and proper location of the anemometer. Only the airport meets the guideline of calibration. In the last storm the newspaper reported a Chappy wind speed was 90 mph, but the airport only showed 52. Mine was 49 mph.

    • It is always about YOU Paul!
      So for the next storm why don’t you call the County and give them and the Times your report from all the outstanding equipment you have in your home?

  2. What beautiful coverage of a rare blizzard ! Jeremy Dreisen’s photos of the kids sledding are wonderful, I love the look on their faces as they whizz down that hill ! I remember that feeling with my own kids- snow days were always to be treasured.
    And why is everyone so snarky in the comments ? Does it really matter what the exact wind speed was ? Just be grateful that we have a local paper at all !

  3. Jaime! I saw your name and had to pop in a quick hello..I was thinking about you and the kids earlier today..and how young I was, and what a pain it was to get ALL of them in their snowsuits and all of it, but so much fun when we got outside! Snowballs fights with my cousin Nancy were the best because she was all girly and whiny. We took her down many a time..I miss that time. x

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