South-facing beaches hit hard by Monday’s storm

Local officials say it was one of the worst they've seen since Hurricane Bob.


On South Beach, near the Western end of Atlantic Avenue, the dune protecting the bank and beach has been decimated. As of Wednesday morning, the beach was mostly gone near the lifeguard shack. There appears to have been overwashes in several areas of South Beach, and there was also a breach at Katama Bay after it was overpowered by the combination of waves, storm surge, strong winds, and a high tide during Monday’s storm.

And there has been significant erosion on Atlantic Avenue that runs parallel to South Beach, which has remained closed since Monday. A section of the road collapsed.

Those are the findings from the Edgartown Conservation Department reviewing the aftermath of Monday’s storm. The department hasn’t been able to fully assess the damage either — outside of drone footage. New deposits of sand washed up on some areas of the beach that are too soft for vehicles to traverse.

Monday’s storm also brought scattered outages and flooding on local roads on all parts of the Island, but likely the hardest hit were south-facing beaches. Winds reached as high as 60 miles per hour out of the southeast; and waves two miles out to sea were recorded at nearly 25 feet, a height not seen by local researchers in over a decade of observations.

“It was the perfect storm,” Kara Shemeth, Edgartown conservation assistant said. Shemeth said that the combination of the wind strength and direction — most winter storms come from the northeast, with the Island somewhat protected by the mainland — as well as the wave intensity, led to the particularly bad beating along the south coast.

“It was massive destruction,” Shemeth said. “Everyone around me is comparing it to [Hurricane] Bob.”

On Wednesday, Shemeth says they are working with researchers and state officials with Coastal Zone Management and the Woods Hole Group to come up with a remediation plan for how to move forward

It wasn’t just South Beach that took a beating. Wasque Beach on Chappaquiddick also took a hit.

“There’s literally no more beach there anymore,” said Darci Schofield, Island director for the Trustees of Reservations. There was also a breach at Long Point Wildlife Refuge, which Schofield said now has a 50-foot river of ocean flowing from it.

Schofield said that other Chappy beaches weren’t hit as hard as Wasque, but there was erosion. Leland Beach, for instance, was closed as of Tuesday. But Schofield said it wasn’t as bad as they had originally anticipated, considering the wind speed and direction.

“It’s recoverable and once the storm surge recedes, we should be able to reopen Leland Beach,” the Island director said.

That said, there are lingering concerns about Wasque and its ability to continuously withstand these stronger and more intense winter storms.

“Preserving these special places for generations to come is our top priority,” Schofield said. “But we are really concerned about the area and the intensity of these storms. We want to work with partners to uphold public access to these extraordinary places.”

Wave Action

Readings from the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory, which has an observation tower about 2 miles offshore from South Beach, recorded a wave at 24-and-a-half feet on Monday.

Anthony Kirincich, who studies physical oceanography with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said that he’s been recording data from the observation station for about a decade, and he has never seen a wave recorded that high.

Kirincich said that the strength of the winds out to sea over a long period of time creates the large swell that eventually came to shore on Martha’s Vineyard. He said that the Island is typically blocked from such sizable waves because our strong winter storms usually come from the northeast, and the Island is protected by the mainland; the waves can’t build up as high. But that wasn’t the case Monday.

Further out to sea, the National Weather Service station in Boston recorded a wave height of 38 feet. On its social media page, the weather service said that the Nantucket Shoals buoy, located 54 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket, measured the massive waves at 6:10 pm Monday evening. “To provide some context, the Green Monster wall at Fenway is [about] 37 ft,” the weather service said.


  1. This article makes it sound as if the breach at long point
    is somehow a bad thing. As far as I know, humans regularly
    open the south shore ponds with excavators to flush them out.

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