Fabian, the season's worst hurricane so far, is expected to pass far out to sea this weekend, to the relief of many Vineyarders. The threat of an approaching big storm and a summer of gray skies kept weather in the fore as a topic this week.
In the Chilmark selectmen's meeting room on Tuesday, a map of the track of Hurricane Fabian hung prominently. Tisbury selectmen met with their harbor master that evening to talk about preparations for the approaching storm if it headed this way.
"We started watching it on Labor Day," said Phil Hale, president of Martha's Vineyard Shipyard. "To me the big issue was how this Bermuda high was going to move. I got a lot of calls on Tuesday, people wanted their boats out of the water. We hauled some boats."
The storm wasn't over the area of the Atlantic that was of serious concern, said Mr. Hale. "It seemed farther north than it needed to be to be towards the East Coast of Florida," he said.
Jesse Steere, owner of Shirley's Hardware in Vineyard Haven, saw customers buy flashlight batteries and bulbs on Tuesday and Wednesday. "Everybody was aware of it. Mind you, it wasn't crazy. But people were coming and buying candles, flashlights, bulbs, wicks. We have all the parts."
Michael Henry, a meteorologist for Weather Services Inc. in Lexington, warned Vineyarders to be wary of going into the water at South Beach this weekend. While Hurricane Fabian is expected to pass 500 miles east of the Vineyard, the storm is still close enough to create dangerous rip tides along the south shore of the Island. "I am concerned beaches don't have lifeguards," said Mr. Henry. "I'd say go to the beach and watch the beauty of the surf but don't go into the water. Expect six to ten foot waves."
As of last night, the probability of the storm passing within 65 miles of Nantucket was three per cent, two per cent for Hyannis.
The early and later parts of summer were wet, overcast and a dismal for those who made a living by the presence of good weather.
Mr. Steere said: "It was a damp summer. Everyone had mildew problems. We sold more fans and dehumidifiers than air conditioners."
Bill Wilcox of West Tisbury said: "I picked my first tomato on the tenth of August and the name of the variety of tomato was Fourth of July."
It was a bad summer for tomatoes and corn. Yesterday, Debbie Athearn at Morning Glory Farm said her crew is working in the greenhouses. "We are starting to pick tomatoes. It was a very bad season for tomatoes, one of the worst. It was also one of the worst years for corn. We had a lot of problems with the corn borer and it went into the tomatoes. Wet weather brought diseases."
Though farm hands were able to keep up with the demand, they were out of corn yesterday. "We will pick corn tomorrow," Mrs. Athearn said.
This was a great year for cucumbers, melons and squash. "We had an excellent lima bean season, which is rare. I think I can remember three times over the last 20 years that we had a good lima bean crop," Mrs. Athearn said. "Pumpkins and squash look good. We are hoping for a good harvest. We are picking green peppers and eggplants [today]."
If there is one silver lining with the storm clouds, it concerns the groundwater. There is now plenty of it. Last summer was one of the driest in 24, said Mr. Wilcox. He keeps a record of groundwater levels at a number of different spots on the Island. He measures the height of the aquifer, the source of the Vineyard's drinking water.
One of the most important wells is located at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. "Last year it was way down to 12.9 feet, which was a 24 year record," Mr. Wilcox said. "From May of last year through to September it was a record low. This year the elevation is 16.51 feet, which is almost a foot above normal."
It took only a year for the groundwater to recover from last year's record low, which is impressive.
At the National Weather Service cooperative station in Edgartown the numbers reflect the increase. So far this year, the Vineyard has seen 32.13 inches of precipitation, or two inches above normal for the first eight months of the year.
Despite perceptions of a wet summer, August and July didn't actually produce a significant amount of rainfall. In August, for example, it rained 3.85 inches, or .58 inches below average. What is more significant is the frequency of rainfall. The first 18 days of August were mostly wet. It rained all but five days of the month.
July was mostly dry with .83 inches of rainfall for the whole month, and seven wet days.
The most difficult part of the season came early.
So far June is the second wettest month this year, with a total of 6.02 inches. March was wetter with 6.99 inches of precipitation. April brought 4.4 inches of rain to the Island.
"The real problem for boatyards was this spring," said Mr. Hale. "It came in April. Remember? It was 35 degrees, it was blowing 20 m.p.h. and it was raining. You can deal with any one of those issues, but you can't deal with all three and for two weeks we had all three. We fell behind. It was wet. It was cold. Once the sun came out the season was pretty good."
Mr. Henry offered a positive note for the weather. "We had either normal or above normal precipitation. It filled up the aquifer and that puts us in a good position for fall and winter."
In the short term, the news is good. Yesterday's rainfall was due to end and the weekend should be clear and warm with temperatures in the 70s. And while in recent years the dry summers led to muted fall leaves, Mr. Henry was hopeful that this autumn there will be "a splendid foliage season."