Earning Stripes

This one is going to need a name.

A blizzard was forecast and a blizzard arrived with a very dangerous tidal surge in its sidecar.

Knowing that high tide was set for 3:30 am, I put myself to bed at 10:00 and woke at 1:15 to follow the action.

Other than the wind I had noted in the last post there was not much to see until stuff started to move around the yard around 2:15. The small flower bed I had added to the courtyard on the Harbor side of the runway vanished in a single wave just about that time.

At 2:40 there was a large crack and I flew to the window to see the fence had been reduced by several rails. The wave action in that courtyard was amazing. The wave would hit, the wash would drench the Tower to a height of 15 to 18 feet, then the runoff would fill the courtyard, swirl in a counter clockwise direction and rush off down the walkway and into the road.

All night long the air was filled with foam – a froth of meringue as thick as a ream of paper let loose in the wind. The movement of lots and lots of very large stone was apparent on both sides of the house.

If there was one wave more memorable than every other, it hit at 3:15. This wave broke over the runway and into the yard. It sent me scurrying downstairs to see what I could see. The fence on the harbor side was broken in two pieces, one long timber aligned with the runway, the other torn into the yard. The decorative buoy that held my thermometer was gone. (I found it this morning with the other logs we use for kids to sit on.) The yard furniture was a tangle but none was bashed or damaged. The Adirondack pair that is connected with a table anchored everything that landed against it.

I tried to take some pictures through the storm windows and got one half decent shot that I share below. There was not a single temptation to head out into it for better shots. (I saw this movie once where it got really windy and a whole house fell on this lady and this little girl stole her shoes.) I did check the runway and got a picture of it with the floor covered with an inch of water. It was very, very, cold out there and I had a great deal of trouble closing the the door from the kitchen to the runway. I finally pegged it closed with a screwdriver.

By 4:30 it was apparent that the tide had changed so I tried to settle in to get some sleep. The power dropped out at 6:35 and I rousted myself at a little past 8:00 to check into the damage.

The first thing I noticed was that the yard had been scoured by the water. The finger piers had moved even more than I had noticed in the night and the bench/bar was tipped over in the hole that had been created when the piers moved. The picnic table was wedged between the logs and the fence and a window box from under the kitchen window was on the ocean side of the fence. That got my attention as I had to wonder if a rock got it or if the wind got it. (The picture directly above shows the bar removed)

Moving toward the Tower to shoot the whole of the yard from that angle I saw that there was a whole new level to the yard. Each wave must have brought a fortune in sand with it and there was a new elevation. Where I had stood two plus feet below the level of the walkway to raise the Tower flag, I was now nearly even.

My biggest shock was turning around from those photographs to find that one of the granite restraining stones that creates the chief barrier for the Tower was missing like a kid\’s front tooth. I asked out loud, \”Where did it go?, where did it go?\”

Noticeable too, was the way the beach was so much more level. The slope I walked down in the summer to get some photographs had been filled in with sand. (I confirmed this later from the Tower windows. What had been a clumsy rock path at a 20 to 25 degree angle to the ocean was now an flat area you could lay a dozen beach towels in comfortably.) I attended a hearing three weeks ago in front of the Community Preservation Committee on proposals to add storm protection to that very stretch in front of the Tower. This storm has demonstrated the need for that protection once again.

Continuing around the Tower on the ocean side I may have found the block. Six or seven yards from where it belonged, the granite had displaced four other blocks that protect the northern side of the runway. They had shifted four or five feet from their original positions and the plucked stone was wedged in against them. This storm had moved this granite like a preschooler stacks LEGOS.

The next shock was the discovery that the eastern most side of the shed had been caved in at the bottom. A gap of 3 1/2 feet must have been been created by tidal surge as there was not a body of rock pressed against the broken wall. I wondered if this was the loud crack I had heard at 2:40 and mistaken for the breaking of the fence. This also explained the extreme cold in the runway.

The final surprise was to see that courses of shingles had been removed from the wall outside the window of the office. Ruth Downton had told me that during the No Name storm of Halloween 1991, George Downton had gone out to buttress that wall as water had it shifting with each surge. As a result of that story I had watched it (going so far as to move the desk away to feel under the window for any sign of weakness) as I moved through the house during the night and only suspected that a gutter was lost for a trinkle of water I could hear running down the side of the house. I never considered that the shingles were being shredded by the wind.

Moving back inside with the camera, I checked the shed to discover that while items were moved they were not damaged. We keep bikes and recycling and sporting goods and other bric a brac in there. All of it was moved but there were not fatalities. The floor was covered in rock and brick however, stones ranging in size from pebbles to stones you would use in the middle of a wall. The unexpected element in the shed was a four by four floor board wrenched up under the bashed in wall. This plywood was forced up by water and floated the three plus feet the wall was moved. The nails were barely bent as if the piece was forced straight up by the sea.

I sent Julie and Haley to warmer quarters and coffee makers when the tide was low around 10:00. They drove through some deep water by Otis Road and saw first hand an apartment with water flowing through it on Jericho Road. Haley had been hoping for some sledding but got this education and a visit with her new little cousin and her aunts and uncles instead.

After they got on the road, I gathered what pieces of wood I could gather and patched up the outer wall against the wind. (It was noticeably warmer inside the house after having done it. The hardest part was the way the wind caught the big pieces like a sail) The picture of it will not win me any wood working awards but I might get a few points for improvisation. I might have earned some stripes there.

The rest of the day saw the inconveniences of power and water loss but that was small potatoes against other losses neighbors were dealing with down the road.

Following along with WATD on the radio I heard about two house fires, an unprecedented battle by boat and with divers to fight those fires, and the catastrophic collapse of a stretch of seawall I ran almost daily as a kid. Sand and water were combining every where to force evacuations and the hassle that follows an event like this.

My brother and my brother in law arrived to lend a hand and to deliver some water. I gathered the batteries I needed and tuned in the radio for word on National Grid. Power was restored at 5:30 pm and with that the heat was cranked into gear.

Yesterday I called this storm the Boxing Day Blizzard. I know that the snow started on Christmas and all that, but I like alliteration. It was a blow by blow battle for people up and down the coast and for this monument to staying put in bad weather. The Old Light has taken lots of punches and took this one. All the same a plan to keep it safer needs to be ramped up sooner rather than later.

5 responses to “Earning Stripes”

  1. So glad you all came through ok, Bob! Thanks for the account of the storm. It's bad down in Sandhills right now, but it could have been so much worse.


  2. We made it through just fine – thanks for the note.


  3. Dave told me about the damage – oy veh! Glad you were able to find the big boulder – now to get it back in place with umpteen million more of the same size. We'll all remember it as The Boxing Day Storm. A present from the wicked witch of the east.Betty M.


  4. We are a couple of miles inland and the wind worried me–a lot. (Although the ocean is unbelievably powerful, swaying pine trees carry their own threats!) You guys definitely earned your stripes during this one.


  5. Glad you are all okay. Love the name, I think it is going to stick. Great pictures too. Haven't ventured down yet, hoping to take a peek this weekend in the warm weather. Mother Nature, go figure…..Heather, Mike, Maggie and Mick


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