Greater Newburyport coastlines brace for storm

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoThe state Department of Transportation placed a sign on Beach Road in Salisbury, warning about the storm Friday and urging people to plan ahead.

Bryan Eaton

NEWBURYPORT — Local officials braced for another fierce, slow-moving nor’easter forecast to hit the region and linger into the weekend, with the potential for major coastal flooding, damaging winds and beach erosion.

In a statement Thursday, the National Weather Service said tides will be “astronomically high” during the first few days of March. There is a substantial risk for flooding along coastal Massachusetts over multiple high tide cycles due to strong onshore east and northeast winds, the weather service said.

The Newburyport and Salisbury coastline will face the bulk of the impact from high tides late Friday morning, Friday night and Saturday morning, according to the weather service.

Officials on Thursday were anticipating a preliminary storm surge of three feet with waves between 20 and 30 feet high just offshore. The weather service said evacuations could be necessary for some shoreline neighborhoods, and emergency officials in Newburyport, Newbury and Salisbury urged voluntary evacuations of Plum Island and Salisbury residential areas along the beach. 

Municipal officials, including mayors, police and fire chiefs, and the Coast Guard have been discussing what precautions to take to prepare for the dangerous flooding the weather service is predicting.

Newburyport harbormaster Paul Hogg said the storm surge during the low tide cycles is his largest concern because it may keep floodwaters from receding between the high tide cycles. High tide in Newburyport comes Friday at 11:39 a.m. and Saturday at 12:06 a.m. and 12:27 p.m.

“We’re really worried about the second high tide at night,” Hogg said. “Obviously, we’re asking people to prepare and find someone to stay with.”

Plum Island is the main concern for Newburyport and Newbury officials, who put signs up to warn residents about the potential for serious flooding and road closures. The harbormaster is directing people to evacuate beach areas if possible.

“Once you get down there and the roads flood, you’re stuck down there,” Hogg said. “We’re asking people to secure their homes as much as possible and if they have family or friends they can stay with (on the mainland), to do that.”

Hogg said officials are also making sure all boats in the harbor are secure and he predicted in an interview Thursday that the boardwalk will flood as well.

In addition, waves will be upward of 35 feet high offshore, according to the weather service. Coupled with the high tides, there is potential for property damage in areas prone to coastal flooding, including Plum Island. State officials are also predicting severe beach erosion.

Newbury police Deputy Chief John Lucey said his department was ready for whatever Mother Nature will bring Friday. The town ordered a voluntary evacuation by Friday morning.

“This isn’t our first rodeo and it isn’t the first rodeo for the citizens of Plum Island,” Lucey said. “The people out there know what to expect but we will be reinforcing the preparations that should be made.”

The town called a meeting of department heads on Thursday morning and all hands will be on deck for the storm, Lucey added.

“We are going to have police officers stationed on the island for all of the tide cycles,” Lucey said. “I also know the Fire Department will be stationing engine companies and ambulances out there as well. Basically, everyone will be on standby. We have our areas of concern when it comes to wave action and we will be monitoring those very, very closely.”

Salisbury Department of Public Works officials prepared for flooding along the beach and noted that some roads will be closed for several days. The town has ordered sand bags and is consolidating several barricades to keep people out of the more dangerous zones.

“We’ll be shutting down access to the beach early Friday morning and we really want people to abide by that,” said Lisa DeMeo, director of the Salisbury Department of Public Works.

Between the state and the town road closures, DeMeo stressed the significance of the evacuation since roads will be shut down for several days due to the three intense tide cycles.

“People who do not evacuate will be there for a while and we will not be able to get to you,” DeMeo said. “People want to see the fury of Mother Nature but putting yourself in harm’s way doesn’t make sense.”

Staff writer Jim Sullivan contributed to this story.

Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.

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