The coldest weather in years has the Vineyard in a deep freeze. Night temperatures have dropped into single digits and afternoon highs have stayed below freezing every day this week but one. Edgartown and Oak Bluffs harbors are locked up in ice.
Roy Hayes, owner of the Chappy Ferry, said operation of his service has so far been fine, but that could change as the ice flows start to move. It has been years since the Chappaquiddick ferry got stuck in the ice, and Mr. Hayes doesn't want it to happen again. "It is dangerous. We don't have the power to push against the surface pressure. We are monitoring it day by day."
The inner harbor of Edgartown is frozen from Katama Bay all the way to the Edgartown Yacht Club. There is floating ice all around the Edgartown lighthouse.
So far, the deep freeze has not affected ferry service between the Vineyard and Woods Hole, but Nantucket has not been so lucky.
Ferry service was canceled early yesterday after a freight boat was unable to penetrate the ice in the Hyannis harbor. A Coast Guard icebreaker was called for assistance. "The channel in Hyannis is pretty much solid," said James Swindler, director of operations for the boat line. All high-speed passenger service to Nantucket was suspended.
"Everything seems to be clear so far on the Vineyard run, but Nantucket is getting hammered," Mr. Swindler said.
The extreme cold has delayed a repainting project on one of two ferry slips in Vineyard Haven, and Mr. Swindler said the slip will be out of service for at least another week and a half. The use of only slip has had a minor impact on the 7 a.m. trip from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole - the trip has been running late at times because a freight boat uses the slip to load before the 7 a.m. Islander run. Mr. Swindler said commuters and other people traveling on the 7 a.m. trip do not need to be concerned about missing the bus in Woods Hole, because if the ferry is late the bus will wait.
"We are in contact with the bus, and I know for a fact that they've been holding the bus," Mr. Swindler said.
Susan von Steiger, outreach coordinator at the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging, said that the center has been checking on the safety of seniors in town.
On one of the coldest nights of this week, an elderly woman called to report that she was in an unheated house and the home heating oil company had refused to deliver. "One senior spent the night without fuel. She called and they refused to deliver. She called her Life Line and they called for her. The oil company said she hadn't paid her past bill, which was not true," the coordinator said.
"Give me a break, this is a lady in her late 80s. She had paid her past bill. They just didn't want to deliver to her," Ms. Von Steiger said.
The council on aging staff is working to make sure all seniors have sufficient fuel to heat their homes during this difficult time. "We also help seniors qualify for fuel assistance," she said.
There are more serious concerns for some homeowners. Water damage caused by frozen pipes can be more damaging than fire. Steve Schwab, insurance broker for MV Insurance Group in Vineyard Haven, said they have received the first of a possible wave of claims concerning damage done.
The insurance company is placing advertisements in newspapers, on radio and television to raise public awareness about the need to make sure that homes are properly managed during this cold period. "We are alerting people that frozen pipes and the resulting water damage can be more costly to our agency than fire," Mr. Schwab said. "A water leak on the second floor of a house can bring down ceilings, walls, cause wooden floors to buckle, ruin the contents and furniture."
The problem with frozen pipes right now is a sleeper. "We wouldn't expect to get any serious claims until those pipes thaw," Mr. Schwab said.
Aushra Galley at Galley Plumbing and Heating Inc. said calls to her office have been few so far, adding: "The lucky people are those who find their frozen pipes now." She urges anyone with an unoccupied home to make sure their caretaker looks at their house twice a day during these cold periods. "Our houses aren't made for this cold weather. Insulation and heating systems are geared for warmer weather than this," she said.
She warns that even a working oil heating system can shut down. All it takes is a brown out or a brief power outage as the burner is firing up. She said: "The transformer will kick out to safety, and then the furnace is shut off."
She said an additive can be put into an oil tank to make sure that oil lines don't freeze.
"It has been a severe week," said Ralph Packer of R.M. Packer Co., wholesale and retail provider of home heating oil. But he added, "Inventories of home heating oil in New England are very good."
Mr. Packer said his technicians who service home heating systems are working hard. "We have six, and we could use two or three more. Just like electricians and plumbers, there is a shortage here on the Island."
Mr. Packer said these heating technicians have been working 14 and 16 hour days. Monitor heating systems that use kerosene are very popular, but trying to get one serviced is more of a problem. Mr. Packer said: "We need more technicians to do the service."
Mr. Packer also runs the marine operation that provides petroleum products to the Vineyard. A barge left the Island yesterday for Providence to pick up 200,000 gallons of home heating oil for Nantucket. "On Nantucket they are concerned. They want to be topped off. Ice builds in that area when the wind comes from the north. Ice can block the whole harbor," Mr. Packer said.
"We had a barge come to Vineyard Haven Wednesday night with 200,000 gallons from New Bedford. We plan on going back the first of the week to get more."
The worst of the cold weather may abate in the days ahead, but winter is weeks from over. Michael Henry, a meteorologist with Weathers Services Inc. in Lexington, said there is nothing on the horizon to suggest that the cold temperatures will end soon. Island harbors will be frozen for awhile. "To thaw those harbors you need several days of temperatures in the 40s, and that won't be on the horizon for awhile," he said.
Mr. Henry said the Island has been experiencing colder-than-average weather since the first of the year. "This may be the real core of the arctic air over us. May be it won't be this extreme, but nevertheless it will be cold for the next seven to 10 days," he said.
The old weather lore comment that "it is too cold to snow" may apply here. Mr. Henry said the air over New England and much more of the Northeast is a dry arctic blast. An ocean storm in the mid-Atlantic dropped a foot of snow on the outer banks of North Carolina yesterday. That storm will miss the Vineyard.
The coldest temperatures this past week came early. The temperature fell to seven degrees on Saturday and Sunday mornings. On Wednesday night the temperature dropped to 13 degrees at the Martha's Vineyard Airport, and Mr. Henry estimated that with winds blowing at 40 miles per hour, the wind chill at the airport was easily 32 below.
Next week, Mr. Henry said, the temperatures will rise some. "It is going to feel better, relatively speaking," he said.