WELLFLEET and EASTHAM ...The Nature Towns

December 9, 2005

THEY are wrong. It does NOT sound like a freight train!

It sounded just like a jet, a large jet plane warming up for an imminent take-off, but this plane was right on Main Street in downtown Orleans, just yards away by the sound, and I was in the old movie theater CVS, almost on the corner. The windows were rattling and actually moving from the jet exhaust blast, and dirt and sand were swirling up from the ground and grinding against the glass. Most everyone ran to the windows to see what was happening...I wasn’t crazy about becoming part of what could be a very large meat slicer and its meat. Tucker Mounce came in with a story of his truck being hit by a falling transformer in the Stop and Shop parking lot. Everyone crowded around to listen. I went out the back door, managed to pull my car door open, and headed toward home.   I had one errand to run first, a prescription to fill, but when I pulled into the Stop and Shop parking lot, everything was dark...the store, the parking lot, the sky. I won’t repeat the whole trip back to Wellfleet, the hour and a quarter of Hell on the highway...branches nearly as big as trees themselves starting to fall, everything from trash cans to someone’s tool box, probably lifted out of the bed of a pickup truck, dancing across the pavement, and the dark, ominous feeling that must be something like depression except that it was outside my car and all around me. Then the blizzard started, the snow driving as fast toward me as it could, while I slowed to a crawl to push my way further into it, unable to see the road, or even the sides of the road for guidance. By the time I got to the Marconi traffic lights in South Wellfleet, night had fallen, making the blinding white pillow coming at me even harder to face, as it threatened to get to me by suffocating my car. I still don’t know how I got home; I learned the police closed Route 6 shortly after my struggle, but I made it, and the battery-operated clock read 4:15 PM. Night fell awfully early on December 9, 2005.

Everyone has a different tale to tell about the STORM. One guy was carrying plywood, and found himself flying when he heard a shout of "tornado" and dropped the wood, which did NOT drop. Fortunately he did drop, and went inside to the safest place he could find. School children were stranded for hours in buses, unable to move forward or backward because of huge tree limbs blocking both directions, but which did NOT land on the buses. Eastham and Orleans were hardest hit. I can’t say I had a lot of damage, compared to what others experienced, but I lost four of the seven big locust trees in the fenced yard behind my office, each leaning in a different direction, pulled up roots and all, yet none hit the building or damaged the fence. Incredible. The roiling wind that touched down in the center of their existence was that small!

There are two names for the STORM: Microblast and Weather Bomb. And it is not unheard of; similar conditions are well known to those in aeronautics, mainly. The sudden downdraft that drops a plane in mid-flight. Wind sheer on a runway. And, now we know, what some say is the most powerful type of weather on Earth...stronger than the strongest hurricane, more powerful than the mightiest tornado...and so small and quick and uncommon that it rates very little mention in any literature that can be deciphered by less than the weather equivalent of the proverbial Brain Surgeon! What we do know: these mini-cyclonic storms, the combination of a blizzard and violent winds, happen only in coastal areas. They are the result of two weather systems, high and low pressure, crashing together to create a violent climax which lasts a very short time but has incredible energy. The barometric pressure must drop at least a full point an hour for at least three hours for the storm to earn its name. The energy from the impact of the collision of the weather fronts is so great, it forces many broken bursts of the jet stream current downward to the earth under so much pressure that when a blast hits the ground, it is forced outward, rolling along the surface and gaining momentum as it travels instead of dissipating ...think of the rings going out across the surface of a pond from a skipping stone, then think of that as an intense pressure wave...then think of the four trees in my office yard falling in different directions. I have no doubt that these vertical gusts of wind, which is a very meek way to describe such violence, can appear to assume a circular pattern, as people who witnessed the storm spoke of tornadoes...or perhaps the violence spawned tornadoes as well as microblasts. We did not have wires blown down, like in a hurricane; we had wires wrapped around trees and woven into the branches. It took weeks to clean up the aftereffects, the incredible damage of this storm which was over less than two hours after it began. The tree stumps along our roads will be its testimonial for years to come.

I will remember fear and uncertainty. I will remember being fervently grateful we had recently had a generator installed. I will remember my husband looking at the sky after lunch and announcing that it was starting to clear up. And I will certainly remember the weather forecasters telling us that the mainland would have snow that day, but that Cape Cod would be spared, although we could expect some gusty wind. Donations may be made to a tree stump of your choice!

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