BREWSTER – What happened to Cape Cod on Wednesday felt like a sucker punch. It was impressive, as blizzards have a way of being on the Cape, but it felt cheap, as if winter threw one last shot as it was being dragged out the door after beating on everyone for too long.
The story was the wind, with gusts you could fall on like a pillow and never hit the ground. Walk-backward weather.
The whistling arrived before the first light, and Ann Poskanzer awoke in the large, and largely dead, Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster, feeling a little spooked by the steady pounding of weather that acts as if it wants to kill you. When the front desk told her there were only six people staying at the hotel and that officials would close the bridges if the gusts got too high, it did little to help her feeling of isolation. “It’s like being in an Agatha Christie novel,” she said, “that feeling of being cut off from society.”
Society, for the most part, took the day off on the Cape. Schools were closed and roads were empty during the peak of the storm, when the whipping snow made the simple act of turning a corner a blind leap into a cloud of white.
Gusts hit 83 miles an hour on Nantucket, which also led in total snowfall with 9.5 inches, the National Weather Service said. Much of the Cape saw gusts in the 60s, but snowfall varied widely with the gusting snow, from 6 inches in Harwichport to just an inch in Eastham.
The wind was enough to bend trees to the point where it was impressive that any still stood, and Peter Gallagher stood inside the Ocean Edge, looking out the window at the greatest storm of his life.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said the 25-year-old waiter who arrived from Ireland two weeks ago. “I’ve never been through anything like a blizzard. It’s quite impressive. But I was just standing there, and the power went off for a split second and I was quite scared.” He had come to see Cape Cod at its best. And this wasn’t it. But in some ways, it was. “It’s exciting, but kind of spooky.”
In Chatham, a 200-year-old beach house collapsed from the gusts. The home had been elevated on blocks while it underwent renovations, but Deputy Fire Chief Peter Connick said the wind twisted it sideways until it pancaked on itself.
Just next door at the Chatham Light, a steady stream of cars came to park next to the coin-operated binoculars and watch the sea chop into chunks of violence as it slammed to the shore, a view that was only intermittently available because of the steady whiteout conditions. By midafternoon, the Weather Service officially declared the storm to be a blizzard, after three hours of sustained winds greater than 35 miles per hour and visibility of a quarter-mile or less in Chatham, Hyannis, Falmouth, and Nantucket.
In Orleans, the Hess station had been doing steady business in beer sales and complaints all day. “People are just done with it,” Mark Barber said behind the counter. “We need a little sunny weather and the sweet smell of burning brush.”
There really was nothing else to say. At the bar at the Yardarm just up the street, one television set showed the weather and another showed spring training.
Most everyone on the Cape was working under the naive assumption that they were done with the bad winter weather. That was the deal, right? It had been spring on the calendar for a week, and though the weather had done nothing that could even optimistically be called springlike, the idea was that it was almost OK as long as the Cape was done with the worst of winter. After this exceptionally long and miserable winter, there was an expectation that a reprieve had been earned. But spring does not own a calendar in New England.
At Nauset Beach in Orleans, some people in cars did doughnuts on the icy parking lot, and a few bundled up to go down to the sand and be blown around like a kite.
Abby, Olivia, and Emma Burke, three teenage sisters from East Harwich, stood in a row like ducklings on the beach, their backs to the raging blast of snow and sand ripping down the beach. Their mother, Stasia, drove them there in her Jeep Wrangler because she doesn’t like them to miss out on experiencing an awesome storm.
“You get to see weather in action,” she said as her daughters began walking backward to the boardwalk, leaning into a wind that shoved back. “It’s not just another boring day.”
But pretty soon, it will become warm again, and sunshine will reintroduce itself to daily life. And with it, spring amnesia will set in, that annual process where New Englanders tell themselves that old story of how it was all, all worth it.