Oct 30 2012
I was surprised to see the full moon shining through bright skies at 10 pm last night. A few rags from the remaining storm clouds scudded over the trees and the brown seed pods from the honey locust curled and crunched underfoot. All was well. We never lost electricity save for a couple micro-flickers that shut down my desktop PC, reset the satellite TVs and made all the alarm clocks blink “12:00.”
The motorboat now sits in the front yard, her bilge choked with leaves and sticks, waiting to be relaunched later this afternoon for a quick patrol of the harbor and a return to the Bald Eagle (who was fine when I last set eyes on her at 5:30 last night, right at the predicted peak of the winds). I think the actual peak at Cotuit came around 3:30 pm, when I ventured down the lane to the landing for the obligatory Churbuckian Storm Patrol (over the objections of my wife), ducking under the police barricade at the head of Old Shore Road and hurrying down the tree-lined tunnel to the boat ramp at the bottom, convinced a tree limb would come crashing down on me at any second. The winds were flowing right up the road in huge gouts of warm tropical air mixed with salt spume blown off the wave-tops in the bay. Standing on Main Street before ducking the yellow tape I could see the wind and spray blasting up and out of the intersection like a firehose of storm.
Having made the 200 meter jog without widowing my wife under a fallen Norway Maple, I joined my neighbor Steve at the boat ramp and felt the full force of Sandy head on, leaning into it, waves breaking overthe road and washing over my boots. A tree went down beside me, a slow lean as its roots softened in the flooded bank. The Split Ticket, a familiar catamaran, was dragging ashore a little to the south of the ramp; I imagine she’s on the mudbank this morning. But otherwise the harbor had been stripped of the last of the summer sailboats, with only a half-dozen left on their moorings to work things out on their own. A pickup truck appeared, with an overly exuberant driver jumping out and screaming into the wind, proclaiming that only a true Cape Codder would face such a storm head-on. Whatever. I don’t like the rubberneckers who clog up Old Shore Road during storms and cause traffic jams while the boat owners are trying to get their trailers down the ramp and their dinghies off the beach. Sure it’s nice to watch the storm — it’s the ultimate primitive special effect — but when the DPW and the police cordon off the road, well, respect the cordon people and watch it on television.
The best part of the scene at Ropes Beach was the big white clouds of spray the gusts would gather from the water and blow across the water in swirling 60 mph walls. The waves were little because the wind was coming overland, from the east, and there wasn’t enough fetch for the water to kick up like it did a year ago in Irene. I’d say Sandy had higher gusts that Irene and a much longer period of sustained winds in the 40s, but Sandy was much more of a nonevent because there wasn’t a summer crowd to come gawk at it, the moorings were stripped of their boats two weeks ago, and all that was left was a couple commercial fishing boats, and a few big sloops like mine. Sandy was definitely a Townie Storm.
I wanted to get a glimpse of my boat, but she was hidden, tucked around the corner of Handy’s Point and the beach from the yacht club out to the Little River marsh was gone under the surge. I hurried back up Old Shore under the groaning and tossing canopy of trees, was amazed to see a mother with her three kids walking downhill (they need helmets, I thought), but told myself not to be a judgmental old fart and waved hello.
I marched down Main Street in my Grunden raincoat and boots to the Town Dock. The water was way into the parking lot, so I waded out to the beginning of the pier and tried to get a glimpse of the boat around Lowell’s Point, but that wasn’t possible and I wasn’t going to risk taking a wave over the boottops by walking onto the submerged dock. Funny how 54-year old brains get all cautious when the 19-year old version of me would have been out there up to my knees hanging on for dear life while trying to chug a Budweiser in the wind.
I took some phone video, saw what there was to see, and went back to the house for the car and quick drive up Old Post Road to a bluff with a good view of the Inner Harbor and the boat riding on her 2,000 pound storm mooring. A couple limbs in the streets which were slick with blown leaves and pine needles, but no big trees were down. The lights were still on at the Coop — the local grocery — and a bunch of skateboarders were hanging out in front looking unimpressed and bored.
The boat was riding very well and was perfectly situated under the lee of the bluffs around the Narrows and Grand Island. She wasn’t hobby-horsing or looking in any danger. Other than some scudding to and fro in the gusts as she took the strain on the mooring yoke across her bow, she looked like she would live to sail another season. I took a few more videos, hopped back in the car, and decided to explore the High Grounds to the south of the village center. The lights were out south of School Street and a couple utility crews and tree-surgeon trucks were at work under their bright lights. It amazes me that Cotuit– at least my part of Cotuit — kept its power through Sandy, just as it did through Irene. Bob in ’91 plunged us into a sweaty darkness of rotting refrigerators and cold water showers for what felt like a week of medieval hardship and hell. Oceanview Avenue was blocked by a fallen tree, but I found a way to Loop Beach and paused on the hill in front of the Judge’s place to look at Sampson’s Island in the failing light. The tide was high, the beach was rimmed like a margarita glass with a verge of white salt, but there were no major beach breaches or hydrological events that I could see. Loop Beach was covered with bales of washed up codium — the rubbery seaweed also called Deadman’s Fingers or Oysterthief — and some kids were playing in the wind. The light had failed, it was evening, and time to get off the roads.
I came home, declared to Daphne that the boat would live again and settled down in front of the Weather Channel to watch poor NYC get pounded. My partner Ben on the West Side texted me through the evening with updates as the Battery and West Side highway flooded, electricity began to fail, transformers exploded, and highways were closed. I am writing off any idea of returning to the office in midtown this week and will spend this morning rescheduling my appointments.
The big winner in this storm, if storm’s can said to have “winners” is the scientific models and digital information systems that identified Sandy when it was still well south of Jamaica last week. I started following the storm six days ago — on Tuesday, October 23rd thanks to an email alert from the National Hurricane Center — reviewed the various predictive models with their Monte Carlo simulations and various algorithmic preferences, historical data sets, and unique assumptions only a person familiar with things like isobars, dropsondes, shearing winds, eyewalls and thermoclines could care about. I eavesdropped on the chatter of those professional and academic meteorologists on storm2k.org, and by Wednesday I was blogging that I had a bad feeling about this storm. For four days prior to Sandy coming ashore the professionals were predicting — with very good accuracy in turns out in day-after-highsight — the time of the landfall, the location, the intensity, the size of the surge, the estimate of the damages …. all with the usual disclaimers and qualifiers, but all right on the money down to the prediction that Sandy would break records as the largest storm in history as well as the lowest in terms of barometric pressure. The news reported by the New York Times last week that we face a gap in this kind of coverage and detection as our polar weather satellites are retired and replaced came is worrisome given that weather technology seems to have finally come into its own.
What is interesting is the concept of hype and media in storms. I think it’s human nature to get excited by the prospect of a major weather event. (It must be a genetically coded fight-or-flee kind of response that tells animals when to seek cover or cavemen to flee the surge and hide from the wind. I know the extremely low barometric pressure had a physical impact on me yesterday. I had a throbbing headache and even felt a little nauseated.) The Weather Channel — which my friend in the Keys jokes is a conspiracy owned by Home Depot — is probably the top source of information, and other than their weather studs in their silly L.L. Bean windbreakers (L.L. Bean is last place I would shop for foul weather gear) being morons on the beaches and piers, there isn’t a lot to be learned except for when some true weather scientist from the NHC is interviewed and slips into the science. NOAA and the National Weather Service did a disservice by following a semantic process and issuing confusing statements that declared Sandy was going “extra-tropical” which the mainstream media morons initially took to be a downgrade, when it fact the storm was getting stronger, just no longer meeting the technical requirements of a tropical cyclone. That’s when people around me started the usual macho bravado of proclaiming, “Ah, it’s not going to do anything. Just more hype. I’m salty and I don’t care.”
I thought the officials in the mid-Atlantic and New York were slow to react. It appeared that Governor Cuomo stepped into the political vacuum left open by Mayor Bloomberg’s seeming insouciance (recalling his infamous advice during a blizzard that New Yorker’s relax and take in a Broadway Show) when he started making moves on Sunday with the transportation system. New Jersey is going to be pointing a lot of fingers at one another I imagine. But the existential reality of storms is this:
- Forecasts are imprecise and a lot of storm warnings are “chicken-little” misses.
- People won’t evacuate. Shelters must suck.
- The media loves drama. It’s all about the boat on the rocks, the waves over the breakwater, the big tree down on the car. Don’t expect your local paper to teach you about storm cones, the difference between the eastern and western quadrants, steering currents, etc. Their job is to tell you where the shelter is, what to do with injured wildlife, fill your bathtub, use flashlights and not candles, etc.
- All storms are different and in the end, other than the drama of nature’s fury, the real reality comes the morning after when the coffee maker is dead, the Internet is down, and you face a $5,000 wind damage deductible because your insurance company really doesn’t care about you.
Finally (enough bloviating, I have to work) the big winner was the “Euro” model — the predictive analysis model run by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. This is one of a few dozen models run by various organizations such as the National Hurricane Center to the US Navy, and according to the weather nuts, was right all along in calling the unique circumstances that make Sandy a Frankenstorm. A great resource for seeing all the “spaghetti” of the various models can be found at, of all places, the South Florida Water Management District.
I know today will reveal a lot of hurt to the west and the south. Best of luck to all in the mid-Atlantic and Tri-state areas. You probably won’t read this for another few days until the lights come back.