The worst blizzard in several decades dumped at least two feet of snow on the Vineyard last weekend, leaving roads impassable, homes isolated and emergency workers in a state of exhaustion.
The northeaster which began late Saturday night and continued into Sunday with gale force winds and gusts up to 70 miles per hour paralyzed the Island Sunday and Monday, and in the case of schools, right on through the week.
For 24 hours the Island and much of the Cape and Nantucket lived in a virtual white out, as an Arctic blast from Canada whipped up a mountain of precipitation from the moist ocean air and pitched it back onto land.
It was the worst snowstorm Oak Bluffs fire chief Dennis P. Alley had ever seen, more severe than the 1978 blizzard that shut down the Northeast for more than a week.
Steamship ferries stopped running for a full day. The Martha's Vineyard Airport shut down for more than two days.
"When they were forecasting this storm, everyone was talking snow, snow, snow," Tisbury harbor master Jay Wilbur said. "But I'll tell you all I heard was wind, wind, wind."
Vineyard Haven harbor looked like a raging sea, he said, and a dense salt spray infused the air around the shorelines.
Snow fell at a rapid rate late into the night. The ferry Martha's Vineyard finished its last trip of the night at 8:15 p.m. and wouldn't resume running until more than 30 hours later.
By 7 a.m. Sunday morning the barometric pressure at the Martha's Vineyard Airport had dipped to 29.25 inches, the lowest it would go.
Islanders had plenty of warning about the storm's intentions. Before its arrival late Saturday afternoon, under stormy clouds, Vineyard grocery stores were full of patrons, stocking up on basic supplies and ready to hunker down.
Plow drivers, police and ambulance crews and hospital workers weren't so fortunate.
Across the Island, public safety officials set up command centers. While highway department drivers manned the plows, police formed a lifeline to elderly residents and many others who had lost electrical power and heat.
"There were a lot of needs that you don't normally run into," said Susan Schofield, supervisor for the radio dispatch center, "like elderly stuck in houses with no way out, people needing medication."
There were heroic moments. At 2:15 a.m. Sunday, an emergency call came from a woman in labor in her home on Lambert's Cove Road. West Tisbury police Cpl. Matt Mincone's cruiser couldn't make it up Duck Pond Road so he set out on foot to locate Annelies Spykman.
A paramedic followed the policeman's footsteps, and the two men escorted Ms. Spykman in the blinding, bitter cold conditions to a waiting four-wheel drive cruiser nearby. She was transferred to a waiting ambulance on the main road and taken to the hospital where a baby boy, Sebastian, was delivered in the maternity ward seven hours later.
Emergency shelters were opened in Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury to accommodate nearly a dozen people without heat in their homes. The Red Cross housed one couple in an Edgartown hotel.
Shelters were run by the local Red Cross chapter but were also manned by volunteer public safety officials.
Chief Erik Blake said public safety crews had an especially hard time going to the homes of the needy. Houses were all painted in white by the storm, obscuring street numbers.
Fortunately, telephone service continued. People could be reached through the phone line if there was a problem finding a home.
Police also assisted transporting more than 50 workers to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, including hospital anesthesiologist Karen Cheshire who was shuttled by police and emergency crews from her Chilmark home.
Some hospital employees worked double shifts and slept overnight at the facility. Kitchen crews at the hospital fed patients, residents and anyone in the building without a place to go.
Utility crews pitched in, performing their own brand of heroism. Four utility poles on Lambert's Cove Road broke and collapsed to the ground Sunday. Utility foremen Greg Williamson and Jean Levesque led nearly a dozen workers plus four utility trucks to restore the poles and restore power. Their work was done amid blinding snow conditions, near Seth's Pond. In some parts of North Tisbury, electricity wasn't restored until Tuesday night.
Chappaquiddick was in for a rough ride. Ferry service didn't run during the storm, and electricity was out all day. Lobsterville and the Lighthouse Road area of Aquinnah also lost power.
In the thick of it all, a snowplow went off the road at Dead Man's Curve in West Tisbury, near the cemetery. A snowplow crashed into another on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road.
Off the roads and out on the water, there was more trouble.
Two large wooden sailboats broke loose in Vineyard Haven harbor Sunday when the winds were highest.
The 45-foot ketch Violet was pulled along with its two-ton mooring block, dragged by the surf and high seas across the harbor toward Coastwise Packet Wharf.
The vessel was first spotted by Steamship Authority personnel early Sunday morning. Mr. Wilbur and the boat's owner, Gary Maynard, rallied a crew of boat handlers to save Violet and minimize damage. Mr. Maynard was able to get the engine running and take the vessel out into the harbor away from the dock, anchoring out of harm's way in front of the ferry Islander.
Mr. Maynard was taken to the hospital emergency room and treated for an injury to his hand.
Another vessel, the 45-foot schooner Estrella broke from its mooring and drifted onto the beach right next to the SSA wharf early Sunday afternoon.
Phil Hale, owner of Martha's Vineyard Shipyard, took photographs of the topsail schooner Shenandoah riding through the high seas at its mooring as though it were on the open ocean in a gale. At times the bow of the 108-foot topsail schooner went under water.
Beach Road in Vineyard Haven was impassable as waves smashing over the seawall flooded the roadbed. Beach Road, running along the barrier beach from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, was also closed to traffic due to high seas coming up the beach and over the dunes.
Snow drifts covered the helicopter pad at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital Sunday night until Oak Bluffs highway department equipment was called in to clear the piles.
On Monday at noon the freight ferry Sankaty made a special trip to the Vineyard, loaded with fuel trucks. The vessel waited at the dock for the trucks to do their deliveries before returning to Woods Hole.
Innovation was a big part of overcoming the snow. On Monday Bruce Marchard of West Tisbury brought his Percherons and a horse-drawn plow to Briarwood Lane.
While nearly all of the town offices were closed, most municipal employees made it to work on Tuesday. Bitter cold weather continued to affect the Vineyard well into the week. An Alberta clipper snowstorm came Wednesday night and into yesterday afternoon, depositing even more snow to test to the back muscles of Vineyarders.
The foul winter weather has created challenges for the National Weather Service which has spent millions upgrading its weather measuring devices. Weather service personnel had a hard time establishing snowfall amounts across the region with the new equipment.
Locally, the official weather station at the Martha's Vineyard Airport was not able to record any official precipitation levels.
Without measuring yesterday's snowfall, the Island has received 35.5 inches of snow so far this month. The data comes from the National Weather Service cooperative station in Edgartown. Last year the total snowfall for the year was 28 inches.
Weather forecasters are keeping an eye on another storm coming up the coast this weekend. The long range forecast for February is also snowy.