A week after winter had officially come to an end, an early spring gale battered the Vineyard Wednesday, shutting down ferries and sending Islanders indoors for one more snow day.
Arriving overnight on Tuesday and centered hundreds of miles offshore, the powerful coastal storm lashed the Cape and Islands with sustained gale-force winds, drifting snow and bitterly cold temperatures from sunup to sundown.
The Steamship Authority cancelled ferry service for most of the day, making only a couple of runs, first in the early afternoon and again in early evening. Ferry service to Nantucket was suspended throughout the day.
Cape Air suspended service, although the airport remained open. Public schools were closed and most municipal buildings, councils on aging and public libraries closed for the day. Government meetings were cancelled.
Main streets were empty save a handful of hardy souls who ventured out to walk their dogs or duck into coffee shops and grocery stores.
There was more wind than snow. Peak wind gusts were clocked at 73 mph at the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard in Vineyard Haven, with sustained winds reaching 55 to 60 mph for much of the day, shipyard owner Philip Hale said. The National Weather Service station in Edgartown reported 3.5 inches total snow accumulation, although deep drifts piled up in some places due to strong gusts of wind from the northwest.
Scattered power outages were reported by the power company NStar, mostly in Edgartown, early in the day. Some trees were downed and flooding occurred in coastal areas, especially on the northwest side of the Island where winds were gusting to hurricane force at times. The National Weather Service in Taunton posted blizzard, coastal flood and high wind warnings for Dukes County throughout the day.
In an advisory Wednesday morning the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency warned that the storm would be dangerous for mariners, especially in waters east and southeast of Cape Cod and Nantucket.
“It was blowing pretty hard,” Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson told the Gazette the day after the storm. He said high winds are the most frequent cause of ferry cancellations because they hamper the ability of the vessels to back in and out of the ferry slips.
“It has to do with the ability to use the bow thruster on each vessel and some are better than others,” Mr. Lamson said. He said the captain decides whether the vessel will run or not. “Ultimately it’s up to the captain to make the call, although we will consult with them,” Mr. Lamson said. “It’s for the safety of the passengers,” he added.
Mr. Lamson said in recent years the boat line has had weather instruments installed at each terminal. “So we can get that information about what the conditions are like in Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs,” he said. About five years ago the SSA installed a weather buoy at sea to help gauge conditions on the Nantucket route, which unlike the Vineyard involves passage on the open sea. “On the Vineyard route the problems in bad weather are mostly centered on having to turn around and dock in the harbors,” Mr. Lamson said. And he said the run from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole is a straighter shot than the route from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven, which explains why sometimes the boats run in one direction and not the other during stormy weather.
“When leaving the Vineyard you are pulling straight out, there’s no turning on either leg. When coming out of Woods Hole they back out and turn to set themselves up to then proceed out of the channel. More maneuvering is involved,” Mr. Lamson said.
He said no problems were reported during the storm.
By day’s end on Wednesday the gale winds had begun to subside and the western edge of the Island was brushed with a lavender sky.
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