Archive for the 'Weather' Category

Feb 13 2013

The wisdom of names

Published by under Weather

My friend thinks the The Weather Channel’s decision to start naming winter storms (the latest of course being “Nemo”) is brilliant in terms of a marketing move.  I disagree, preferring to grant that authority to the National Weather Service, which started naming hurricanes in the early 1950s to clarify things while reporting on the movements of multiple storms along the same coast.  Everyone is familiar with the alphabetical model that begins ever new year with the A’s and moves on up, alternating female and male names (beginning in 1979 after storms were exclusively named after women for three decade)s. Now the names are assigned by the World Meteorological Association.

Last week the Weather Channel jumped into the name game and dubbed what would otherwise be called the Blizzard of ’13, “Nemo.”  Along with their on-the-beach reporters who look so daring in their terrible L.L. Bean raincoats (I’d have a lot more respect if they were out there in real foul gear like Grundens or Henri Lloyds, L.L. Bean has mostly made crap for the last twenty years), the decision to assume the mantle of official storm-namer is pure b.s. with an gleaming eye towards grabbing more audience and eyeballs.

I’m by no means the first grumpy person to call foul and criticize TWC for such a blatantly commercial move. Other than giving the social media crowd a convenient hash-tag to tweet, naming blizzards doesn’t accomplish much in my opinion other than to reinforce the channel’s cheesy and breathless approach to each and every weather event that drives viewers to their channel.  I realize that in weather “heavy” areas of the country — I’m thinking about the Florida Keys — the Weather Channel is standard fare on most TVs in diners and bars, enough so that I’ve come to expect it while tucking into a plate of biscuits and sausage gravy turned pink with a couple blasts of Gator Hammock sauce before heading out for a day of bonefishing.

I prefer my weather straight from the official source, or as close to the source as possible. That means no Accuweather, no Weather Bug, no Weather Underground but straight to the National Weather Service which does an excellent job without resorting to advertising-aimed-at-the-elderly  for reverse mortgages and diabetes supplies that are otherwise-ignored channel’s bread and butter.  I’d rather read a professional forecast discussion written by a PhD level meteorologist  than listen to some soundbites by a cheese-dick gesticulating in front of a green screen projection of a weather map with the inevitable graphical phallus protruding from his groin. I want to compare the models, dwell on the millibars and follow the tracks and maybe actually learn something.

The Weather Channel deserves all the criticism it gets for this move. No competitor will honor their names and indeed they might start dubbing storms with names of their own (which some did). The official keepers of the weather, the NWS and the NMO don’t give snowstorms, blizzards, tornadoes, or earthquakes names because, quite simply, these events are very local, don’t affect a large swath of geography the way a cruising hurricane can, and generally don’t occur simultaneously with other events that might cause public confusion. I don’t want my natural disasters to be sponsored by Cialis.

The Atlantic Monthly has a good piece online about the absurdity of Nemo.

And in closing, the late great paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, on the futility of naming things:

“The passion for naming things is an odd human trait. It is strange that men always feel so much more at ease when they have put appellations on the things around them and that a wild, new region almost seems familiar and subdued once enough names have been used on it, even though in fact it is not changed in the slightest. Or, on second thought, it is perhaps not really strange. The urge to name must be as old as the human race, as old as speech which is one of the really fundamental characteristics by which we rise above the brutes, and thus a basic and essential part of the human spirit or soul. The naming fallacy is common enough even in science. Many a scientist claims to have explained some phenomenon when in truth all he has done is to give it a name. “

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Oct 30 2012


Published by under Weather

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, 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:

  1. Forecasts are imprecise and a lot of storm warnings are “chicken-little” misses.
  2. People won’t evacuate. Shelters must suck.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Oct 27 2012

Sandy – two days to go

Published by under Weather

I stripped the sails and dodger off of the Bald Eagle Too yesterday, taking her into the town dock so I could back the car onto the pier and load it up with sails, canvas, cushions, pillows and bedding left over from the summer. The boom came off easily and I cut off the rigging tape from the turnbuckles, pulled some cotter pins, but left the clevises in as it looks like I am not going to get hauled and the boat will have to ride things out on a hurricane buoy in the inner harbor.

I’m not too freaked out by this one. The assistant harbormaster was on the town dock and predicted three inches of rain but prolonged conditions worst than Irene a year ago. He’s ex-Coast Guard and said his buddies at the Cape May station are staring a big one in the eye as Sandy is predicted to make a perpendicular landfall somewhere between Delaware Bay and Sandy Hook on Monday.

The discussion between the professional meteorologists on is generally too technical for me to follow, but a few of them are making some pretty dramatic statements about the one-of-a-kind confluence of circumstances that gives this storm the potential to really disrupt life for a lot of people in the mid-Atlantic states. When some of the professional voices in that forum start to make grave pronouncements that this is going to be a monster, I start to pay attention.


As of today (Saturday morning), they are in general agreement that Sandy is pulling a rope-a-dope by declining in power from a hurricane (sustained winds over 70 mph, tropical temperatures throughout) to an “extra-tropical storm” or “northeaster” as it gets sucked in a question-mark shaped course out of the usual cyclone pattern of moving from the southwest to the northeast along the Gulf Stream. A weather system coming east from the mid-west is causing the button-hook maneuver and will bring it abruptly west along the shipping lanes into New York City and the Chesapeake right into New Jersey. The professionals say it will intensify as it meets the low pressure system over Ohio and Pennsylvania, with its barometric pressure dropping potentially to a low level below that of the infamous 1938 Long Island hurricane. Low pressure means intense winds, the collision with the mid-west weather means Sandy will get held in place and start to dump a lot of rain on the Delmarva Peninsula up to NYC.

The effects on Cape Cod will be mostly wind from an extraordinarily large wind field — it looks like those winds will be hitting us from the southwest and west on Monday night through Tuesday. The reasons the forecasters sound more freaked out that usual are:

  1. The “perfect-storm” scenario of a tropical storm meeting a big low pressure system over the most heavily populated section of the US
  2. This would be one of the few storms to strike, as opposed to glance off, the shore.
  3. It is hitting on a full moon.
  4. The barometric profile in the models suggest it will come ashore with exceptionally low pressure, pushing a considerable surge in front of it as high as ten feet.
  5. The confluence means it will stall over the tri-state area and “grind” away before slipping off to the north. This means a long prolonged period of soaking rains and high winds.
  6. The trees in the mid-Atlantic are still heavy with leaves, so knock-downs are inevitable, causing power outages.
  7. The mid-west system could cause winter-like conditions later next week, a bad scenario if lots of people are without power.
  8. Some professionals are saying this could be a “4.2” out of a scale of 6.0 in terms of damages. The most hysterical are saying it will be the biggest weather event since 1938, most agree it will cause damages in the “billions” and could exceed Irene in terms of impact.

It’s gorgeous here today, so I’m off to the beach to make the most of it and to fiddle around on the boat and essentially do what I needed to do anyway later next week when the boatyard comes to haul me for the winter. I’m supposed to be at a meeting in NYC on Tuesday and other outside of Philly on Wednesday — doubting either is going to happen.

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Oct 25 2012

Now I’m Officially Worried About Sandy

Published by under Weather

I am not a meteorologist, but I know enough to scare myself and as soon as it’s a decent hour I’m calling Peck’s Boats to beg for a pull out on Friday or Saturday ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

Couple of factors have me spooked. First, this is a late season storm driving due north into the warmest North Atlantic in modern record keeping. According to my yachting associate Charles Barthold, water temperatures are 5+ degrees higher than normal around the Northeast and warm water is the energy source for storm systems. Second, there is a big low pressure system moving east to meet Sandy from the midwest. This looks like it will “grab” the storm and pull it back towards the northeast, hooking it onto Cape Cod in a classic northeaster scenario. This is, indeed, a repeat of the “Perfect Storm” scenario that whacked the Cape on Halloween, 1991. I remember that storm and it was a pisser.

The CMC OZ  model below (click through to animate it – press the “+1” button to step through it) gives a good predictive illustration of the button-hook maneuver Sandy could pull on the Northeast. This is one of a dozen models, so take it for what it is, but it gives an idea of the weird way this storm could behave at the last second.

I am normally not a believer in the wisdom of the crowds, but the discussions at are very informative and give a good range of random weather geeks’ opinions.

So the plan is to get out NYC today around noon, use tomorrow to strip sails, dodgers and other random parts and pieces and begin to assume that Peck’s can’t get me out in time, in which case I’ll trust to my mooring which saw me through Irene in 2011.



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Apr 04 2012

Big data visualization beauty

I marvel at the art of visually representing quantitative data. There have been some excellent examples over the time. I used to be particularly obsessed with Smartmoney’s heat map of the stock market which blew a lot of minds in the late 1990s, and went out of my way to try to recruit the genius who came up with it into (with no success). Today it seems so static and Web 1.0, but still, cavemen used to be freaked out by fire, imagine what they would do with a Bic lighter?

Uncle Fester, the collector of all that is interesting, sent me a link to a very cool wind map.  Meteorological maps are generally fairly dull and impenetrable, with their own symbolic language of isobars, beaufort scales, and occluded fronts. Indeed, weather has long been considered one of the greatest data challenges. Consider that for decades the standard was something like this:

 Not very friendly to the layman, more the sort of thing a pilot or professional could read and derive some sense of the future from. Wind is personally the single most interesting element of a weather forecast. As a former sailboat racer, I’d obsess over the probability of a wind shift occurring during a race, or, plan ahead on whether or not to take a crew to help hold the boat down if the breeze increased in velocity. Too much weight and I’d lose. Too little weight and I’d be screwed trying to keep the boat flat in the gusts.

Here’s what wind maps used to look like:

And here is what they look like today. This is beautiful and very addictive to play with. I highly recommend clicking through to see this in all of its animated glory.







And sorry, but I can’t forget this classic:

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Feb 14 2012

Cotuit Crocuses in February

Published by under Cape Cod,Weather

The biggest spring “harbinger” cliche is the annual photo the Cape Cod Times publishes of a gorgeous blanket of purple crocuses (croci) in front of some quaint old Cape house on Route 6A — the Old King’s Highway — in Cummaquid. This photo usually runs in March. Last week the Times ran a photo of some confused daffodils blooming in Orleans.

This past weekend I took the dog for a stroll and to my surprise, spotted these two brave blooms — during the first week of February. Every fall, when I bury the tulip bulbs, I always plant another set of crocuses out along Main Street. The photo below is of a batch planted three years ago.

My garlic has already sprouted in the garden, the parsley and rosemary are still going strong, and groundhog’s shadow be damned, it would seem the Cape might actually have a real spring again this year. The downside is the house is infested with flies — I guess some critter expired under the shop and the warm temperatures are … well, you can guess. I roam the house with the electric tennis racket/swatter in hand. I have a serious aversion to flies.

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Aug 29 2011

The Day of Nailbiting: Irene Blows Through

John Steinbeck opens his memoir, Travels With Charley with an account of rescuing his 22-foot motorboat from Hurricane Donna in 1960. I remember reading that story before ever experiencing a hurricane myself, and I was impressed by Steinbeck’s willingness to risk his life for his beloved boat, wading into the waters of a harbor on Long Island Sound to free her from the clutches of some other boats and then power her up and steam safely to a safer anchorage. Since then I’ve repeatedly suffered the peculiar paternal anxiety of a boat owner confronted with the possibility of losing a boat, especially during those terrible storms where there just isn’t enough time to pull it safely from the water. When that happens it’s just wait and watch.

I own a 26-year old 33-foot Endeavour sloop — the Bald Eagle Too — a gift from some good friends who were going to consign her to a charity auction after her last owner passed away (I’ve retained her name out of the superstition that a renamed boat is bad luck). The boat is a total joy — who can argue with a gift? — and it has become the center of summer life for me and my family these past three years.  The first  twinges of boat anxiety began to build when Irene started to threaten early last week. I phoned the local boatyard on other business — to organize the pullout of the yacht club’s motorboats — and the owner answered his cell phone with an abrupt: “If this is about your big boat, tough titty…..” I never expect to be on anyone’s priority list for boat hauling as I maintain the boat myself to save money. Big spenders get pulled first so they can continue to spend.

On Friday my son and I stripped off the sails, took down the dodger and spent an hour attending to the mooring lines, insuring the chafing gear was in the bow chocks and running a third backup line from around the mast, down the bow roller for the anchor line and then down to the splice in a bowline where the mooring pennant met the chain in a blob of sea squirts and barnacles. Somewhere down there in the black muck was a fairly new 500-pound mushroom anchor. Hefty, but still, past hurricanes have ripped moorings that size out of the mud before. When we finished pumping the bilges dry, switched off the electrical system, and made one last paranoid check we motored up the harbor to check out a hurricane mooring I was given last year during the threat of Hurricane Earl. Alas, it had a little swim float tethered to it — 2,000 pounds of serious yacht insurance for a little wooden float — but hey, not my mooring, not my place to bitch and moan, and the Bald Eagle was just going to have to tough it out on her own.

All around us, out on the edge of the mooring field, the other owners of the big sailboats were making the same preparations we had. You can instantly gauge the saltiness of a boat owner from how thoroughly they approach their storm preparations. My good friend the Judge, who has been through hurricanes dating back to the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, was doing the same thing I was — get all the canvas off the spars and spend a lot of time on the mooring pennants and chafing gear. Less experienced owners were leaving their roller reefed jibs on — a fatal mistake as the gusts will pick them open until the boat is literally sailing unattended at the mooring, wildly tacking back and forth until the mushroom is dislodged.

The danger in a mooring field isn’t necessarily what happens to one’s own boat, it’s what the 0ther boats that break free will do to you. In fact, late during yesterday’s storm a very new and hot looking racing sloop just to windward of me broke free late in the storm — probably due to the lines rubbing through, and blew down wind, just missing me but hanging up stern to bow on a small sloop that had stoutly made it through the worst of the blow, only to get dragged off by the combined weight of its own hull and the runaway. If I were the owner of the second boat I would be irate this morning, as he’s totally high and dry on the northern beach next to the boat that took him out.

I first went down to the water at 6 am on Saturday, just when the first storm bands were blowing in, and things looked fine. A party barge had broken free, but otherwise it was a good eight hours before the peak gusts were scheduled to arrive around 2 pm. I took the family out to breakfast at a seaside restaurant, but the windows were moaning so loudly in the gusts we lost our appetites. We returned home and for me, the worst was just starting.

The helplessness one feels during a storm is overwhelming.  You stand at the shore, pick a good angle to view the boat, and with every hard gust that blows the tops of the waves into the air, every blast of green water that goes over the bow, the boat hobby-horsing on its tether at a 45 degree angle up and down into the air and troughs ….. Yes, I could have spent the storm out on the boat. The thought occurred to me. One tactic is to keep the diesel running and then feather the throttle during the gusts to relieve some of the tons of pressure from the mooring. But, as I learned in my younger days as a surfcaster when a wave nearly flooded my waders and drowned me while I was fighting a striper –no fish, and no boat, is worth drowning for.

The crowd at the foot of Old Shore Road was mostly gawking at a motorboat thrown into the middle of the street and the occasional sailboat dragging down onto the sands. A gorgeous Tartan sloop from Annapolis came in right at my feet, the mooring float still tied to the cleat on the deck, the boat a victim of bad chafing gear. The fact the sails were still on the spars and a big inflatable dinghy was still hanging from the stern davits was an indication the owner hadn’t prepared for the worst, yet I heard him on his cell phone being very angry with the boat yard that rented him the mooring.

I’d watch for an hour then walk back up the hill to the house for a drink of water, some food, and a few minutes of pacing around telling myself que sera, sera — no need to go back down, what will happen will happen and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. That blithe rationalization lasted about a half hour until I pulled the orange Grunden back on and made my way down the shore road, nervously watching the tree limbs over my head, convinced I would get crushed by a falling maple branch on the next puff.

At noon the police arrived and kicked everyone off of the landing, putting up crime scene tape at the top of the hill to keep gawkers from driving down. High tide followed 30 minutes later at 12:30 — the storm surge coinciding with the new moon extreme tide — and Old Shore Road flooded, carrying a sportsfisherman right onto the road and blocking it closed. A big cruising catamaran, the Split Ticket, dragged ashore — the wind catching under the cabin sole between the two hulls and just muscling it slowly down the harbor into the beach grass. Blocked by the police from the beach and losing my mind at the house, I called a friend who lives on the water and has a view of my boat to see if I could come pace and fret on his lawn.

“I’ve got bad news,” he said. “She’s gone.”

That sucked. She had broken loose. “Do you see her on the beach?” I asked.

“I don’t see it. It might be up in Inner Harbor near the Oyster Company.”

As soon as I dropped the F-bomb my wife and son knew the worst had happened. We piled into the car and starting driving to the section of the bay where she would likely come ashore. As I turned the car past the cemetery the phone rang again.

“Never mind. I see her now. I guess I couldn’t get a good angle from my kitchen.”

I said another bad word. This was like the punchline of a bad doctor joke. “I’ve got good news and bad news ….”

We drove to his house and with a beaming smile (Har, har, April Fool’s!) he handed me a set of binoculars. The Bald Eagle was still out there, getting pounded as hard as I’ve ever seen any boat get hit at anchor. I handed the binocs to my wife. She stared for a few seconds, handed them back, and turned away.

“I wish I hadn’t seen that,” she said.

I snuck back down to the landing and remained there all afternoon. Pacing. Staring. Wincing. You could tell who the boat owners were. We all stood silently, arms crossed, staring. The gawkers and spectators were snapping pictures of the boats canted over the road, laughing, socializing, caught up in hurricane fever; but we owners were together but lost in our thoughts.

The Bald Eagle late on Sunday afternoon

Then more bad news as the gusts started to hit even harder. The Polaris, a gorgeous blue ketch, perhaps one of the prettiest boats in the harbor, was ashore just north of Lowell Point. I felt for the owner and his sons as they slogged through the surf and eel grass towards the spot just out of sight where she was rolling in the shallows. Then the C-Team, a grey sloop went on the beach at Handy’s Point. A sportsfisherman went into the trees under the bluff. The Lowell’s finger pier vanished in a tangle of planks. As I stood and spectated I felt a sharp twinge in my neck, and for the rest of the day couldn’t turn my head without wincing. I dug my finger into the spot — the kind of pain one gets from sleeping wrong — but nothing would make it go away.

My boat continued to plunge. And plunge. And careen under the impact of the williwaws and gusts. The hull heeled at a crazy angle under the force of the wind. At one point I thought I heard a jet engine out over the harbor — perhaps a stormhunter or Coast Guard Falcon jet from Otis Air Force Base? No, it was the sound of the wind honking through the spars and rigging of the 30 boats in the bay, an eerie mechanical, unnatural wail. I started to lose it. Just make it stop now. Throw a switch. Enough is enough. The boat had been riding hard for eight hours. I visualized the mooring lines where they came through the bow chocks and ran back to the cleats: a cartoon image of frayed dacron line, down to one Coyote-and-Roadrunner thread, waiting to snap with a little “plink” …..

I walked through the flotsam and wrack to Lowell’s Point to see if I could help with the Polaris. The owner and his sons were wading big anchors out into the surf and then using the jib winches to kedge the stern off of the beach. Coming ashore at half-tide was a good thing if they could keep her from being pushed any higher up on the sands. The next high tide might float her enough to be tugged free; otherwise, as in Hurricane Bob, a big Sikorsky SkyCrane helicopter with slings might be needed to get her off.

The Polaris ashore

And so it went through the late afternoon. At 7 pm I made my last trek down to the harbor. The wind had veered to the southwest, sustained at 40 knots with an occasional gust up to 60. They had said Irene was not so much a high impact storm as a big, long duration one and they were right. It blew for 12 solid hours. The longer it blew the more chafing I had to fret about, and as boats continued to break free and drift down on her right up until darkness there was no celebration on my part that the worst had passed. Coming home for the last time before nightfall I saw the boat’s mooring ball on the deck. A friend had found it on the beach. Ironic the float made it ashore while the boat didn’t.

I must have knocked on wood a dozen times yesterday, looking for a tree every time I said, “She’s still out there.”

By the twilight's last gleaming ....

At ten I went to bed, mentally exhausted. My wife and son were both exhausted and enervated by the long day of worry and helplessness. We all crashed.

….At so, at six today I woke to bluebird skies and the ringing of the first chainsaws. I pulled on fresh pair of shorts and walked down the lane, stepping over the downed limbs and pushing through piles of green leaves. More boats had come ashore during the night. One had a white hull with a blue stripe …. was it my boat? I thought for a moment my luck had run out.

In the blazing twinkling sun, too bright to see through with sun glasses and a hand visor, I looked out to that space in the harbor where she should have been and with immense relieve saw her hull, placid and bobbing safely on her mooring. She made it. I could safely celebrate without knocking on wood.

And the pain in my neck is completely gone.

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Aug 28 2011

Irene arrives

Published by under Cape Cod,Cotuit,Weather

I went to the beach at 6 am in time to see the first boat come ashore. Three hours later things were pretty intense, even though high tide was another three hours away and the peak gusts aren’t due to arrive until 2 pm.

Ropes Beach is pretty crowded with gawkers, but I’m glad we pulled the Cotuit Skiff fleet yesterday and got the dock out of the water. My boat is still out there, riding bravely and looking good. For now.

I’ll post more videos until the power goes and I lose my connection.

This first series was shot at the Town Dock.

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Aug 23 2011

Hurricane Irene

Published by under Weather

Here’s something to think about. The first hurricane of the 2011 season and the ensemble/stochastic model puts it over the Cape on Monday morning. That gives me five or six days to worry and fret.


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Aug 28 2009

Strange skies

Published by under Cape Cod,Cotuit,Weather

Tropical Storm Danny is futzing around to the south, due to hit the Cape in the form of some windy rain tomorrow.  I headed out to the Osterville Cut at noon for a service in memorial of the son of a friend who tragically died last weekend diving off of the Oyster Harbors Drawbridge. The skies were bruised and ominous — fitting for a sad day — but I wondered how a Wampanoag felt four hundred years ago, standing on the shores of Coatuet and Cotacheset, looking out at Nantucket Sound with a hurricane over the horizon, no idea what was coming, but perhaps tuned into some natural indicators that I’m too technically enabled to see.

Now I can track this stuff on the National Weather Service … or Wunderground … or Accuweather or gazillion weather sites, all loaded with Flash-enabled graphics, and probability cones, and hourly predictions that tell me to expect a 30 mph gust tomorrow at 3 pm.

Whatever. I rather be the one who looks at the sky and says, “Going to be a blow tomorrow.”

So out of the water came the motorboat — more for a powerwashing to get the mid-season slime and barnacles off the hull than fear of some meterological disaster. The big boat sits where it sits. I may pop out there early in the morning and take off the sails so the wind doesn’t unfurl them and cause mayhem in the harbor. The weather service is calling for gale conditions with winds in the high 40s – enough to make a mess, but not a disaster zone.

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Apr 25 2009

I figured it out today …

… I slept an hour later than usual, woke to grey skies, ate bacon and eggs instead of beneficial oatmeal, did rapid-fire errands, stopped by the herring run just as the day turned awesome (I saw a big school of herring waiting in the top pool), installed a new mower blade and mowed the lawn, bought a six-pack of Offshore Ale, strung up my rod with a new lure, and hit the prettiest beach on Cape Cod for two hours of casting practice (no fish yet) in the setting sun before rushing home and catching the last five innings of a four-hour classic of a baseball game against Yankees (who also lost a nailbiter to the Sox the night before), cooking the entire time (rillettes, duck leg confit, vegetable stock, hummous) screaming at the TV in the kitchen, and scaring the dogs.

I congratulated my esteemed neighbor for doing the right thing, and she told me about an profile of your humble narrator in the Barnstable Enterprise.  I couldn’t find a copy, but someone dropped it by the house while I was running errands. I feel conspiciously auspicious. I’d point to it, but it’s not online and I am not in the mood for personal promotion.

A good friend dropped by and we got on the topic of seagull attacks and the time I watched a seagull poop into someone’s agape mouth aboard the Hyline ferry M/V Point Gammon when I worked on there as a deckhand in college.

Tomorrow I paint the bottom of the yacht and continue my gardening. My spring peas have sprouted and my arugula is showing itself.  The tulips have opened and the alcove reeks of hyacinths.

On a day like today it does not suck to be me.

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Sep 06 2008

Battening down

We pulled the boats in the Cotuit version of an old fashioned barn raising — the Hurricane-Is-A-Coming Boat Pull — a ritual that involves at least six Cotuit Skiff owners  simultaneously flipping out and amplifying weather rumors into a pending disaster worthy of a Jerry Bruckheimer/Chad Oban film. Strike up the bad electric guitar solo as these six adults anxiously unrig their antique sailboats while bemused rubberneckers drive past in their SUVs and snap pictures.

It’s not that frantic. We’re pretty good at it. Conrad hauls his boats and his customers boats out of the water fully rigged and up the hill to his boat shop. Since he’s a boat builder he has a special trailer that makes skiff pulling a simple one-man operation. The rest of us — Dan, Jimmy, Brad, Tom, and me — play boat trailer roulette, pressing into service anything with wheels and a trailer hitch to get the job done. In a full-on hurricane boat pull during the summer season, dozens of people swing into action and we can move an entire fleet of 40 boats into the meadow atop Rope’s Hill in about three hours. Off season, as we are now after Labor Day, the remaining townie sailors have to play good Samaritan and pull the remaining fleet. Thankfully yesterday’s pull was minor as we’re only operating under a tropical storm watch and Hanna was pooping out in the Carolinas. Nevertheless, I had to pull my boats because of next week’s trip to Bangalore and the fact that two more storms — Ike and Josephine — are right behind Hanna.

Our last legit hurricane on the Cape was Category 1 (the weakest on the one-to-five scale) Bob in August of 1991. That is the one and only true hurricane to hit the Cape in my 50 years on the planet, but beginning in 1938 on through the early 50s, the Cape got pasted with some regularity, including some big damage to the Cotuit Skiff fleet. So, rather than risk a 60-year old nautical antique built by my grandfather in the hopes of getting a few more weekend sails in before Halloween, I pull.

So, here’s the drill. My son Fisher and I row out to the motorboat, tow the dinghy to the beach, motor back out to the skiff, untie and tow it ashore and do the same for the other boats. The first rule of boat pull is the first boats to get pulled are those belonging to people physically present and assisting. Boats being pulled for those absent — pity pulls — take low priority.

Fisher rides the skiff in and starts unrigging the sail while I anchor the motorboat. I fetch the ditty bag (sailor term for canvas bag of nautical tools) and start pulling out the mast wedges that hold the mast secure inside of the mast step. Forestay is unshackled. The halyards (ropes that raise and lower the sail) are unreeved. Fisher stands on deck, hugs the mast, lifts it out and we lower it down and into the cockpit of the boat along with the boom and the gaff. I get into the car attached to the trailer, back it down the ramp until the rear wheels touch the water, set the parking brake, jump out and pull out ten feet of winch rope. Fisher guides the hull onto the carpet covered bunks, gets the boat centered and I stick a rubber mallet with the winch line clove-hitched around the handle into the mast hole on the deck and start winding the boat carefully up onto the bunks. As soon as the boat is secure on the trailer, Fisher and I hop into the car and drive the boat out of the water, up the ramp and up Old Shore Road hill to Main Street, bang a left, go 50 feet and drive into my driveway.

Brother-in-law, brother, and college roommate/best man arrive in pickup truck. Hop out. Two guys on the bow. Two on the stern. Fisher on the saw horses. We lift on one-two-three, step over the trailer, put the gunwale or side of the skiff on the sawhorses, tip it up and over and then upside down, bottom up on the sawhorses. The horses are placed in the middle of the yard so when and if the trees come down they won’t land on the boat. The boat could, in theory, blow off of the horses, but the hull weighs 500 pounds and should be secure. Putting in a garage isn’t a smart move because a) the boat needs to be washed with freshwater first b) that takes too much time and c) the garages are too close to the treeline and could get smashed by a falling maple and really mess up the boat.

Then we jump back into the vehicles and drive back down the hill to do it a few more times on the other guys’ boats. Whole operation takes less than hour but can be made more complex when:

  1. The gang drinks beer and tells stories in between boats.
  2. Tools from my ditty bag are borrowed and dropped in the water
  3. The trailer tire goes flat and a can of a Flat-Fix gunk needs to be located
  4. The stem on the trailer tire rips off and the flat fixer is coated with white Flat-Fix gunk
  5. Another trailer is found
  6. More beer is drunk
  7. People who don’t know how to back up a trailer are allowed to back up the trailer
  8. Weekend Wally’s who don’t understand boat ramp etiquette slip in with their trailers and decide to give their boat a manicure on the ramp while the rest of us made loud suggestions that they move it elsewhere

Colleagues in North Carolina are reporting no big deal, their lights are still on, and Hanna is right to their east. We awoke to a good, unrelated rain storm, now everything is muggy and quiet, but the fun should begin around 7 pm. Tomorrow I should be able to relaunch the motorboat, and sun shine permitting, get in some beachtime before departing for the airport and my Bangalore flight at 6:30 pm.

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Sep 04 2008

The nervous time of year

Published by under Cape Cod,Weather

UPDATE: – I’m pulling the boats this afternoon. The town just sent an email to the mooring permit holders and all indications are things are going to get windy tomorrow. Can’t risk a 6-year old boat for a couple extra weekends of sailing.

September is when I start really worrying every time business travel takes me off of the Cape and I still have boats in the water. For September is hurricane month on Cape Cod — they hit rarely enough to make them a freak occurance, but often enough and with enough violence to make them a very bad thing and something to worry about.

I’ve been out of town when a hurricane has threatened and the feeling is very very bad. I rather be here, with the family, battening down the hatches and pulling boats for storage in Ropes Field rather than following it online via the National Weather Service.

Now with Hanna coming up the coast and me scheduled to leave for Bangalore on Sunday night, I may have to pull the Chugworm and the motorboat. Not a lot of people left in town to do it for me. It’s a shame, out is out when it comes to a Cotuit Skiff. They aren’t easy boats to launch and rig, but I have spent less time sailing this year than I spent sanding and and painting and there are some fun “cove races” throughout the fall weekends.

Tropical Storm HANNA Public Advisory.

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Jul 27 2008

Storm watching

Published by under Cape Cod,Weather

Looks like a serious thunderstorm is sweeping up Long Island on its way to Cape Cod this Sunday afternoon. So, rather than risk life and limb in a sailboat, I’ve hunkered down with the laptop and am watching the radar show a big mass of red moving up the coast.

Run for your lives ....

Run for your lives ....

I use the National Weather Service. In days gone by I used to actually pay Accuweather for “premium” weather until I figured out they get most of their data from the NWS. I need to get a book as I have no idea what “base reflectivity” means, nor the weird quadrangles that get arbitrarily placed on the storm track. Figuring out amateur metereology has long been one of those wish lists along with figuring the names of the constellations.

Looks like I have another hour to go before I need to make sure the car windows are rolled up and the porch windows are closed.

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Sep 20 2007

The Morbid Equinox — The Hurricane of 1938

Tomorrow, September 21, marks the Fall Equinox. Sixty-nine years ago to the day my grandparents and my father rode out the greatest storm to ever strike New England, while to the west 600 people perished. It was a disaster my grandparents never forgot, something they didn’t talk about much, but with a tinge of fear, making it the ghost story of my childhood, a scary story reinforced by scrapbooks of photographs of storm damage and commemorative editions of the New Bedford Standard Times that detailed the destruction through photographs of wrecked beach cottages, submerged autos, and yachts cast incongruously across highways and train tracks. I pored over those photographs, and asked out loud when something as dramatic might happen again. I was shushed. It’s bad luck to whistle up a storm.
I am reading a good book, A Wind to Shake the World, by Everett S. Allen, the late journalist and Martha’s Vineyard native who spent his career at the Standard-Times, starting as a cub reporter on the day the hurricane struck. The fact this was a hurricane with no name (it occurred before the days when the National Weather Service dubbed them names such as Katrina and Andrew) may account for a lot of the mystery surrounding it. It was the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the eastern seaboard north of North Carolina. It happened unexpectedly, there were no forecasts and it literally caught people unaware, on the beach, closing their summer cottages at the end of the season. People in New York and Boston were unaware of what was happening to their south and east. It was days before the news became known and relief could arrive. It was the storm that punctuated the misery of the Depression, the storm which ended any semblance of colonial bucolic New England that remained, that the Currier & Ives version of New England that existed before the Interstate, an isolated corner of working farms, scrub forests, rich men’s mansions, and remote beaches. It was simply the Storm of ’38.

Driving home to Cape Cod last night from New York City (my flight to Hyannis was cancelled due to fog), was an eerie experience, especially once I passed New Haven and began to flick past the towns which had been devastated by the storm 69 years ago, a landscape tortured and which I read about that morning on the flight to LaGuardia.

Long Island was hit first, around three in the afternoon. New York City saw some strong winds and flooding, but the damage got worse to the east. Fire Island. Point of Woods — the barrier island that runs like a tenuous finger between the Atlantic and the bay behind it was flooded by a tidal wave 35-feet tall, wiping cottages and their occupants off of the sand dunes, blowing them north to the mainland. The Hamptons were hard hit, but Montauk, the commercial fishing haven at the very terminus of Long Island was ruined. Bodies were blown across Block Island Sound to Rhode Island. After the storm, police sent messages downwind to Montauk, seeking identification of victims such as this:

“The little boy found was between 36 and 37 inches tall, weighing forty pounds and was between two and three years old. His hair was medium brown, inclined to be wavy…He wore a dark blue suit with white pearl buttons … the message was addressed to [Montauk] because it was to windward, in terms of the hurricane.”

Across Long Island Sound, in Connecticut, where I drove through the early morning hours, New Haven, the Elm City, lost 42 percent of its trees, losing a beauty it was renowned for. Crossing the bridge in Old Saybrook, over the Connecticut River, I thought of Nils Ek, the captain of the 48-foot cruiser Marpo, who perished while trying to save another man’s yacht.

“After striking the bulkhead two or three times, the craft disappeared, and no trace of her was found after the storm. She is presumed to have slid off into deep water and probably was carried far downstream underwater. Whether Captain Ek fell overboard or had gone below to determine what was wrong with his engine will never be known.”

In New London, the destruction was absolute, sealed by a fire which carried away the commercial center of downtown during the worst of the 120 mph winds. In Mystic, the next town, fish were found in kitchen drawers of flooded houses. A Boston bound train was washed off its tracks outside of Stonington but no passengers were lost and the passengers — mainly prep school students — found refuge in the village. Rhode Island was hit the hardest.

Over 100 perished in Westerly where the high school was turned into a morgue, the shorefront at the Charlestown Breach and Point Judith seemed to take the brunt of the blow. The day after, Allen described the scene:

“Along the shore road back to Misquamicut, the remains of houses are scattered deep on the shore of Brightman’s Pond. Gangs of men comb the coves and fields for bodies; hundreds more are expected to join the search tomorrow, for nearly thirty dead are still missing …”

The story was the same to the east: Narragansett, Wickford, Newport.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “So it goes.”

Downtown Providence was flooded to the second floors of the downtown office buildings. Looters rampaged after the waters receded. People died in Westport, at Horseneck Beach. Padanarum, the yachting center west of New Bedford, was the scene of much maritime mayhem, as the most beautiful yachts ever imagined were dashed against the bridge and causeway at the head of the harbor.

The storm hit on a school day, and in Bristol, Rhode Island, a school bus was flooded. Eight children died. And so it went.

Town after town ravaged by a storm which in the course of three hours — coinciding with high tide — pushed a 35-foot tall water of water before it, drowning those unfortunate enough to be trapped in their collapsing homes, killing fishermen caught unaware at sea, and gruesomely gashing and impaling those caught outdoors with flying debris. A women securing her window bled to death when the glass shattered and cut her jugular vein.

The saddest story related by Allen and the hardest for me to bear as I drove home, occurred beneath the Bourne Bridge, the southernmost span over the Cape Cod Canal. There a house which had washed off its foundation a couple miles to the south, fetched up. When rescuers cut a hole in the roof they discovered four elderly women and an 11-year old boy, drowned in the attic. With them was a local man, about my age . He had been visiting elderly people in his neighborhood, helping them secure their homes and tying up their skiffs. His name was Hayward Wilson.

“At midnight, they found five bodies on the second floor; all had drowned. A bloody bruise was on Wilson’s forehead and his hands were badly bruised and lacerated; he had made a last desperate effort to break through the roof to get the women and little boy out of their water-filled prison.”

He was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal for Heroism , the reverse side of which reads: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

That bridge was the hardest to cross. With every highway sign, another one of Allen’s anecdotes of tragedy and death, heroism and survival came back to me. I’ll never be able to look at the southern New England shore the same way again.

These pictures say it all. Napatree Point, Rhode Island before the storm.

And after (note the wooden groins, or planks in both pictures for reference.

(photos by the late Leonard R. Greene)

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