Weathering the Storm

Weathering the Storm

We traditionally have a lot of seasonal visitors on Cape Cod. Friends and relatives abound during the summer months in Osterville. But when you mention names like Carol and Bob, a different kind of visitor comes to mind.
Hurricane Bob (August 19, 1991) remains fresh in most memories with Cape-wide loss of power for over a week and over $1 billion in damage to Massachusetts alone.
When Bob arrived on Cape Cod, he was a weakening category
2 hurricane. However, he still packed enough of a punch that hundred-year-old trees on East Bay Road simply toppled over. The leafy canopy providing shade on the winding road was altered forever. Waves were so high in the gale force winds
that they crashed over the bridge to Oyster Harbors. And many boats ended up far off in the marshes surrounding the bays.
Bob hit on a Monday morning in the height of the summer season. Many people joined in an 11-mile back-up at the Sagamore Bridge in an attempt to get off-Cape. In the days after the storm passed through, the salt spray from the ocean caused the leaves of trees to prematurely turn brown. It was as if fall had hit overnight.
The Cape Cod tourism industry took a big loss that August and September. Most of the public relations effort centered around,
“Yes. Cape Cod is still open for business.”
And then there was Carol in 1954. Hurricane Carol, and her twin sister Edna, hit Cape Cod as category 3 storms. In fact, the name Carol has been officially retired from the NOAA listing of annual storm names. The destruction and loss of life was enormous. Damage to boats and homes due to the high winds and flooding was devastating. The erosion from Carol left part of the Wianno Club’s dining room hanging over the edge of the bluff. With more advanced warning, many people left Cape Cod to escape the brunt of the storm. In the end, almost one-third of New England lost power.
But nothing compares to the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.
It was a time of crisis in the midst of World War II, and this storm was the last thing needed on the home front.
The storm made landfall on the Cape at night and winds were clocked around Cape Cod at over 100 mph. Radios and newspapers gave early warnings, but they were nothing like the computer tracking models of today. 

When the hurricane hit Cape Cod in September of 1944, it destroyed the Dowse Mansion once located on the present-day Dowse’s Beach. The main house was lifted off of the foundation and floated out into East Bay. The only surviving item from the house — a piano forte — is in the permanent collection of the Osterville Historical Museum.

The family decided not to rebuild, and the Town of Barnstable paid $30,000 for the property and renovations to create a bathing beach for all town residents.
Over 60 feet of coast was stripped away from the Wianno Beach and hundreds of trees were lost in the pine groves along the boardwalks parallel to the ocean. The major difference in 1944 was the clean-up crew consisted of German POWs being held at nearby Camp Edwards.
The trees of the Wianno Grove initially took a big hit during the hurricane of 1938. At that time, the Wianno Club’s bathing pavilions and piers were destroyed as well. At very low tides, you can still see the remnants of those piers destroyed in the hurricane of 1938.

In September of 1944, the Wianno Club began the sale of “Hurricane Notes” to pay for emergency enhancements to protect
the entire Osterville shoreline. The town of Barnstable pledged to cover 15% of the repair costs, while the state covered 50% of the bill.

At the Crosby Yacht Building & Storage Co., Wilton B. Crosby reported good news to a few lucky customers whose boats were stored
inside. These boats — including Mrs. Bridge’s Wianno Senior The Mistral — floated as the storm surge hit. Despite a 12-foot above
normal flood tide, when the water receded,  “the boats in most cases set upright on their keels.” The only expense? Getting the boats back to their spaces and blocked up again. Storage costs back then? $5 per month for a Wianno Senior. A very small price to pay, indeed.

Weather experts say that Cape Cod is long overdue for a direct hit by a major hurricane.The fear is that the weather patterns of today are very similar to the 1930s-1960s — years that produced devastating storms. With a higher year-round population and increased building along the coastline, damages could be hefty.
Although these hurricanes have forever changed the Cape Cod coastline and the landscape, they have not hindered the spirit of those who flock to the seaside year after year.

by Jennifer Williams

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