, Newburyport, MA

February 11, 2013

As blizzard moves on, impact remains

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The Blizzard of 2013 is behind us now, but its impact will certainly be felt for a long time to come along our beach coastlines.

As predicted, hardest hit was Plum Island’s Annapolis Way neighborhood, where six homes were hit by such a powerful barrage of waves that they were determined to be unihabitable, at least temporarily. We were sorry to see that the home of Tom Nee may never again be fit to be occupied. He has put up a long and difficult effort to save his beachfront home.

The longterm impacts for this part of the island are serious. Damage to the dunes has now rolled back to the dark days of 1976, when the neighborhood stood imperiled by erosion and homeowners desperately threw up barriers to save their homes. Many of those barriers are now exposed again, spilling like wreckage onto the beach. In the mid-’70s, Plum Island looked to be on the brink, but a change in erosion patterns and sand migration gradually rebuilt the beach and protected vulnerable homes. Hopefully those patterns will once again visit the island.

The surprise impact of this storm was felt on Salisbury Beach, where about 1,000 residents were evacuated at the height of the high tide on Saturday morning. Overwash from the waves cascaded over dunes, through at least a few buildings, and down onto North End Boulevard. So much of our focus has been on Plum Island’s woes in recent years, but a storm like this reminds us that the entire coast is vulnerable.

In West Newbury, a home was lost in a massive fire that tested firefighters to the utmost. Battling blizzard conditions, local firefighters tenaciously stuck to their duty and tried their best. Sadly, the home is a total loss.

Once the storm ended, our roadways were very quickly restored to good condition, due in large part to Gov. Deval Patrick’s decision to put a statewide ban on non-essential driving. It was a controversial move, but it allowed plow crews unimpeded access to roads, and clearly helped get the roads in good condition far sooner than one might expect. It is a lesson for future blizzards.

We New Englanders have a strong winter survival instinct and a natural penchant for hunkering down, and that was clearly displayed by the mad rush on grocery stores and gasoline stations that happened on Thursday and Friday. Many stores were left with shelves savaged and several gas stations were utterly drained of fuel. In retrospect, it’s a funny reaction given that we were really only hunkered down for a day and a half. Surely most of us had enough milk, bread and ice cream to survive 36 hours.

One final thought. This was the first year that snowstorms were given names, with this one nominated as Nemo. This is a Weather Channel gimmick that thankfully very few people seem to have embraced. It’s bad enough that every storm has to be hyped. Now we’ll start seeing too-cute-and-clever storm descriptors (maybe Nasty Nemo or some similar nonsense.) No, please, just give it to us straight. The Blizzard of ’78 didn’t need a clever name. Neither does the Blizzard of 2013.