Emergency preparedness leaders on the Vineyard say they are not only well along in their plans for this year’s hurricane season — which began officially June 1 — but their preparations have improved over a year ago.
Last summer’s close approach of Hurricane Irene was not as severe for the Island as in other parts of New England. But the storm did help Vineyard decision makers move forward in better preparing for the big one.
Almost 3,200 buildings on the Vineyard sit on land which could be inundated by the storm surge of a category four hurricane. Even a category one storm would put almost 400 buildings at risk.
The daunting statistics come out of work done by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which plotted the location of structures on the Island against so-called SLOSH (Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes) maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The tragedy of the New England hurricane of 1938 was not the loss of nearly 10,000 homes and business along the shore. It was the psychic destruction of summer for an entire generation. Virtually everyone that lived on or near the New England coast was traumatized by the loss of someone or something they loved. People who lived in homes their grandparents built and thought were safe and secure were killed, injured or saw their property destroyed.
The sea and coastline around the Island have been roughed up by hurricanes and tropical storms this September, beginning last weekend when Earl blew through and again midweek when more tropical disturbances cropped up. The weather has been unstable: thunderstorms crashed down on Edgartown on Wednesday while West Tisbury stayed dry and sunny.
But the forecast calls for weather patterns to settle down by Sunday, just in time for the opening of the sixty-fifth Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.
Vineyard property owners concerned about sky-high insurance premiums now have company; the Massachusetts Attorney General mounted a claim last month that faulty computer-generated hurricane models have contributed to unnecessarily high home insurance rates for property owners across the commonwealth.
Will Irene, lumbering up the coast earlier this week, lose her gumption and shrink from landfall as Earl did last Labor day weekend? Or will she gain momentum and pack a wallop the way Bob did two decades ago? As we go to press, the first hurricane to threaten New England this season seemed likely to spare the Vineyard a major disaster. But despite big advances in hurricane tracking over the past 20 years, weather patterns remain just capricious enough to keep the skeptics among us skeptical and the planners preparing for the worst.
Southern New England is overdue for a major hurricane. The last big one, in terms of lives lost, damage and cost, was the Great Hurricane of 1938. A lot has changed since then that will make the next one even more severe.