Home Global warming A barrage of wind and waves from the weekend storm battered the Cape Cod coast

A barrage of wind and waves from the weekend storm battered the Cape Cod coast


With rising seas and intensifying storms due to climate change, she worried about how long the house would last. “It’s such a beautiful place,” she said. “We really hope we don’t have to leave.”

The weekend’s bomb cyclone brought record snowfall to Boston, caused power outages for more than 100,000 people across the state, and forced commerce, roads and school districts to close. It also swept over parts of the coastline, a stark reminder of the vulnerability of many coastal regions in Massachusetts.

Sandwich wasn’t the only storm-battered coastal town. High winds and a powerful storm surge nearly toppled a historic beach house in Truro. The former US Coast Guard building, which has survived numerous other storms since it was built on Ballston Beach in 1850, was left on stilts on Saturday. Its pilings cracked as 99-mile-per-hour wind gusts tore through the coast and parts of the house’s foundation slid into the sea.

Coastal erosion has long shaped Cape Cod and much of the state’s coastline. But as global warming fuels more powerful storms – bringing heavier rainfall, stronger tides and more intense winds and waves – erosion is likely to accelerate, claiming more of the coast and taking all the structures with it into the sea.

In 2018, scientists from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown found that along Massachusetts’ 1,500 miles of shoreline, some 65 acres are swallowed by the sea each year.

It’s “very likely that the impacts have gotten worse” since then, said Mark Borrelli, a coastal geologist at the center.

Cape Cod is particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion because the soft, loose sand left over from the last Ice Age is easily disturbed, especially as coastal waters warm at an accelerated rate and sea levels continue to rise. ascend.

“These warm waters fuel the storms,” ​​said Jack Clarke, conservationist and former member of the state’s Coastal Erosion Commission. “They put a lot of moisture in the storms. . . and these big storms create really, really big waves that erode the shoreline.

In recent years, some communities have sought to prevent erosion by allowing residents to build levees or fortify their cliffs. But Clarke notes how these measures can be environmentally destructive and create erosion problems elsewhere.

“The seawall interrupts the natural flow of sand,” Clarke said. “This disruption of the forces of nature has repercussions that aren’t good if you’re trying to protect man-made structures.”

Clarke said some communities may soon have to consider a “managed retirement” of residents who live along the coast.

“The need for climate change adaptation in this shoreline retreat requires planning,” he said. “The effective implementation of pension plans should take place before the crisis.”

Coastal erosion and flooding from the weekend storm could have been much worse, especially in Nantucket, where sea levels rose 3 feet above typical high tide, said Christopher Piecuch , an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

If the strongest gusts and lowest barometric pressures had arrived six hours earlier, sea levels could have been a foot higher. Strong winds increase wave action, while lower pressures, with less weight from the atmosphere, allow seas to rise higher.

“What happened was not the worst case scenario,” he said. “An extra foot would have meant a lot more flooding.”

In Sandwich, where the city’s historic boardwalk suffered severe damage during the storm, many residents were still assessing the damage on Monday.

Irene Davis, who has spent years urging city and federal authorities to do more to protect Sandwich, felt a sense of despair over the impact of the storm.

“I grew up in these dunes and jumped off this walk,” she said. “In 2015, a Boston reporter asked me what worried me the most. I told them I was worried the day someone would ask me what happened to our dunes and our well-being boardwalk. loved one, and why no one had done anything to stop her. Unfortunately, that day has come.

Susan Lott’s cabin on Spring Hill Beach has survived numerous storms since her family bought the coastal property in the 1930s, but few have landed with as much force as last weekend’s bomb hurricane.

“We’ve been hammered,” said Lott, 77, who hopes to keep their cabin for her grandchildren.

So much of the sand that protected her home had been washed away by the sea that she expected her family and many of their neighbors would each have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to bring in more sand. Without such a buffer, their homes are unlikely to survive another major storm, she said.

“Northeasts are becoming more and more relentless,” she said. “Climate change is certainly playing a part, but we will continue to do what we can to protect the chalet.”

“Sea levels . . . have risen nearly a foot over the past 100 years in most parts of the Northeast,” said Erika Lentz, a research geologist at the Coastal and Marine Science Center of the United States. United States Geological Survey at Woods Hole “That amount is likely to double or even quadruple over the next 80 years, and those aren’t even the worst-case scenarios.”

David Abel can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @davabel. Dharna Noor can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.