The prolonged powerful winter blizzard that pounded much of eastern Massachusetts last weekend left the Vineyard in cleanup mode this week with downed trees, weary emergency and utility workers and nearly-depleted snow removal budgets in most town highway departments.
Called one of the worst blizzards to hit New England in many decades, the storm named Nemo brought more than two feet of snow to some parts of Massachusetts. And while the Vineyard was spared the worst weather, heavy snow, sleet and ice and hurricane-force winds cut the Island off from the mainland for a day and a half. Ferry service was suspended from 2:30 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Sunday. Air and mainland bus travel were also shut down. With plenty of warning that a huge winter storm was on the way, public schools and most businesses closed early on Friday to allow people time to get home. The storm was slow to arrive on the Island, but by late Friday night winds were shrieking, sleet had turned to snow and whiteout conditions prevailed. Earlier in the day, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency for the commonwealth and a travel ban was in effect on all roads.
Reports on total snowfall accumulations here varied widely. The National Weather Service station in Edgartown recorded five inches, while Tisbury Department of Public Works director Fred Lapiana reported 14 inches in his town. Many roads were impassable due to wind-driven snowdrifts, and highway crews worked around the clock from late Friday through Sunday to clear roads of thick snow and ice. Heavy equipment was required.
Gale to hurricane-force winds rocked the Island at the height of the storm. The Martha’s Vineyard shipyard recorded a wind gust of 83 miles per hour sometime during the night on Friday, shipyard owner Phil Hale told the Gazette in an email early Saturday.
There were scattered power outages across the Island, but by midday Saturday NStar crews had restored power to most Vineyard customers.
Northwest-facing coastal areas saw significant erosion, including at East Chop Drive, which is now a one-lane road.
“The road has been undermined. If we get one more storm, we will lose the road,” said Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard Combra this week. He said he had been in conference calls with the state to get emergency repairs done quickly.
Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah was turned into pebble beach. Houses along the northwest coastline were coated in icy salt spray.
The Martha’s Vineyard Airport closed from 4 p.m. Friday until midmorning Sunday. Airport manager Sean C. Flynn said his crews worked hard through the storm to keep the 5,504 feet of runway clear (the runway is 100 feet wide). The county’s new multipurpose snowplow and blower that operates with a 16-foot-wide, four-foot-high plow, had its debut. “The biggest challenge was staying ahead of the heavy wet stuff that came, and how cold it got afterward, turning what was on the ground into concrete,” Mr. Flynn said.
Unlike highway departments, Mr. Flynn said the airport crews aren’t allowed to pile snow; instead it must be spread evenly on the grassy areas that surround the runways.
Chris Kennedy, Vineyard superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations, said Norton Point Beach was overwashed by high tide and high surf. There was also overwash at Leland Beach.
Early in the week a 25-foot sloop, Silver Girl, was perched on a salt marsh at the west end of Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven after she parted from her mooring line during the storm.
Chief John Rose of the Oak Bluffs ambulance service said they had extra people on duty during the storm, but received few calls.
“The one thing I have to say is that I appreciate the fact that, in general, people obeyed the driving ban. They got the message,” said Mr. Combra of the highway department.
Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson said early and accurate forecasting helped major transportation links plan for shutting down service in an orderly fashion.
“I think the forecasting was excellent,” Mr. Lamson said. “They were saying all along that we were going to get from eight to 14 inches and a lot of wind. We were in several conference calls with the National Weather Service and they started putting out the message early.”
Mr. Lamson said a special effort was made to safely locate the ferries at the dock, a short distance away from vulnerable transfer bridges, to avoid the possibility of damage. The Island Home was berthed in Woods Hole and the Martha’s Vineyard was in Vineyard Haven.
Meanwhile, most town highway departments reported depleted funds in their snow removal budgets in a winter that has seen a steady procession of smaller snowstorms since just after Christmas.
In Oak Bluffs Mr. Combra said the town’s snow removal budget of $35,000 has been spent. In Tisbury, Mr. LaPiana said his department has exceeded its budget of $15,000. In West Tisbury, town accountant Bruce Stone said the town has exceeded its budget of $40,000. Edgartown selectmen voted on Monday to allow the town highway department to exceed its budget of $35,800, although the department is not yet over budget.