Storm Buries Vineyard Under Tons of Snow

Northeaster Strikes on Monday, Slowing Island Life to Crawl


Mother Nature showed little mercy this week - bringing the Vineyard to a standstill beneath mounds of snow and whipping winds.

From slightly before 8 o'clock Monday morning into the wee hours of Tuesday, snow buried all that did not move and slowed to a crawl the few who did venture out in the blizzard-like conditions.

Official tallies at the National Weather Service Cooperative station in Edgartown registered only 10 and a half inches from the storm that brought the East Coast to a standstill. Those on the front lines of this week's weather war, however, reported that in many Island spots the snowfall topped 18 inches - on top of the eight inches lingering from the snowfall of Feb. 7.

"The consensus up here is that we got at least 18 inches. The storm brought localized pockets of bigger flakes, and we got those," said Chilmark police chief Timothy Rich, noting that rarely does a winter storm's cleanup require front-end loaders to clear Squibnocket and Tabor House roads when plows failed.

The airport - which closed operations for 25 hours beginning Monday at 11 a.m. - measured 13 inches by 3 p.m., before the bulk of the downpour. Flights resumed Tuesday afternoon.

Winds of 35 miles per hour prevailed through much of Monday, delivering weather conditions fierce enough to suspend ferry service by mid-afternoon. Airport manager Bill Weibrecht registered gusts exceeding 45 miles per hour. Visibility diminished to mere yards in the height of the storm.

Though not furious enough to qualify the Presidents' Day storm as a blizzard, the wind carved out waist-high drifts, forcing the closure of the Herring Creek and Katama roads in Edgartown. The town highway department could only clear the Atlantic drive loop with front-end loaders Tuesday.

Icicles, dangling from every roof, froze diagonally in the Island's port town - the artwork of the northeast winds. A cross-country skier took advantage of the snow, barreling down State Road by EduComp midday Monday.

At the Steamship Authority terminal, no taxi dared meet the weather-worn passengers trickling home from off-Island on Monday - forcing most Islanders to thumb rides with cars leaving the boat or brave the elements on foot.

"I've driven a cab for five years, and this is the worst I've seen. We got nailed. I'm still having to tell folks we can't get them where they want to go," said Scott Correia of Tisbury Taxi, one of the few drivers venturing out in the days following the storm.

Even during the height of the storm, when those businesses that opened Monday morning had long since closed, Islanders could get a haircut in Oak Bluffs or a video in Vineyard Haven.

"They're naming a battery after me - die hard. I'm obligated to my customers," said Benny Mancinone, a barber on Circuit avenue.

"It proved that we are an essential service," said Anne Evasick, manager of Island Entertainment on State Road, noting that the first movie out of stock Monday was Blue Crush - evidence that folks were dreaming of warmer weather.

Island Entertainment waived late fees for movies not returned Tuesday.

"We didn't expect people to risk life and limb to get a movie back - even though people seemed to do that to get a video," Ms. Evasick said.

The plow fleets from town highway departments began their week-long removal marathon early Monday morning. By Thursday morning, plow drivers could count the hours of sleep they'd managed to get this week on one hand.

"The first 20 hours is okay, but after that, it gets monotonous," said Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr., admitting that the department depleted snow removal funds before the holiday cleanup began. He estimated this storm will cost the town between $6,000 and $10,000. Holiday pay for his crew boosted the cost of this particular storm.

Tht Tisbury public works department, given the green light by town leaders to dip into emergency funds for snow removal, trucked the snow mounds last night up to their property on High Point Lane.

"We were tackling the storm continuously," said Fred LaPiana, director of the department, yesterday afternoon. "We didn't let up until it let up. It was a continuous fight, and I think we won."

Officials in Oak Bluffs - the only town to impose a mandatory driving ban between 9 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. Tuesday - attributed the cleanliness of streets by midweek to the shutdown.

"People certainly abided by it. It made our streets look better than everyone else's," said Oak Bluffs town manager Casey Sharpe, who spent much of her week manning phones for the town Council on Aging - the lifeline for elders shut in by Monday's weather.

Vineyarders didn't need to look far to see the results of the massive cleanup. Mounds 15 feet high lingered at the base of Circuit avenue, the loading zones at the Oak Bluffs terminal, by Bend in the Road in Edgartown and behind Compass Bank in Tisbury.

Stuart Fuller, Edgartown's new highway superintendent, devoted Tuesday afternoon to trucking the heaps of snow - 12-foot heaps covering a third of the yacht club parking lot - cleared from Main street earlier that morning to the town's landfill. Mr. Fuller remembers the snow removals of his childhood, when workmen would dump the sand-colored snow clumps in the harbor - a practice long since made illegal by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Mr. Fuller said the department's overtime fund, $3,500, was exhausted Monday morning. Short one crew member, who is on vacation, Mr. Fuller pulled a former employee out of retirement in the effort to stay ahead of the snowfall.

This week was touch and go for Chappaquiddick residents, who were stranded at home for long periods. Edgartown harbor completely froze over the weekend, leaving a relatively clear channel for the On Time Ferry to slip beside.

"We were forced to shut down a couple of hours a day when chunks of ice drifted off from the harbor. The ice would build up around the slip and we couldn't get to the ramp," said Roy Hayes, Chappaquiddick ferry owner.

Despite nature's fury Monday, the Island escaped with few serious mishaps. Martina Mastromonaco, coordinator of the Tri-Town Ambulance, said there were no emergencies her service couldn't handle.

An Oak Bluffs ambulance needed a tow Tuesday afternoon when it got stuck after responding to a call at Ocean Park.

The emergency room team treated no storm injuries during the height of Monday's snow, though they've seen a steady stream of patients affected by the flu, shoveling sprains and slips on the ice.

Tuesday morning, most folks remained stranded at home. Terry Andrade of Your Market walked a mile to work after her car got stuck near her Shady Oak home.

Mainly those with trucks and SUVs braved the roadways - armed with shovels and tow lines, itching to be helpful to others stranded in the snow.

"We were lucky for a lot of reasons. A lot of people continued to be snowed in Tuesday, dulling the idle curiosity that forces people out on the roadways. It allowed the plows to keep up," said Chief Rich.

Edgartown police left their cruisers in the lot, sticking to the three vehicles with snow and ice traction. Officers used the wedge on their emergency response truck only a few times - once to pull an officer out of his driveway to report to work.

Only a few calls sputtered across the scanner Tuesday - a two-year-old locked in a car in front of the library, a rear-ended Mazda on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, a sideswipe on Oyster Pond Road, carbon monoxide buildup in a house on School street.

Phil Levesque and Eric Hathaway of the Edgartown water department spent all day digging out fire hydrants buried beneath snow drifts.

Along Beach Road, ice spread as far as the eye could see across Nantucket Sound, puzzle-piece chunks drifting between the jetties.

Paulo Ferreira of Wrap-N-Roll - rumored to be selling the only coffee in Tisbury Tuesday morning - racked up over $100 in tips just for being open.

Aside from the sideswipes, spin-outs and standstills, the Island was quiet Tuesday - those not hibernating indoors played outdoors. Island schools closed for the day, allowing the kids to play at Sweetened Water Farm in Edgartown and Tashmoo Overlook in Tisbury.

Wednesday morning, birdsong seemed to express the relief everyone felt after climbing out from beneath Monday's snow. Lunchtime on Circuit avenue brought a traffic jam of folks desperate to meet friends at Linda Jean's for some much-needed human contact.

Karon Hill and M.E. Jones chatted over a table of warm sandwiches at the busy diner. Healing a case of cabin fever brimming since Saturday, the friends shared passages from books they'd devoured during the storm.

"I didn't think I was going crazy until I actually got out of the house," said Ms. Jones, who hadn't even begun to dig her car out of a plowed-in spot on the street.

Ms. Hill, a chiropractor, closed her practice for a few days, but said she expected soon to be flooded with patients for treatment of shoveling injuries.

Bette Carroll, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, dined with son Sam Carroll and shared tales of blizzards from her childhood.

"This is nothing," she said with a laugh.

Malcolm Keniston, who ventured out from Edgartown Wednesday afternoon with his wife, Marion, also downplayed Monday's storm.

"I remember when I was five or six years old - it was 1916 - the snow climbed well over the fence in our yard," Mr. Keniston said.

But for most, this week's storm heightened the sense of winter isolation on the Island.

The light at the end of the tunnel, Mr. Fuller said yesterday, is spring - only five weeks away.

"We're in for one nasty mud season. March can be bleak under the best of conditions - but mud can be the straw that breaks the camel's back psychologically. We're setting ourselves up for that," Chief Rich said.