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It’s official: Boston breaks tide record

The National Weather Service said it was receiving numerous reports of coastal flooding, and the inundations were getting close to those during the Blizzard of 1978.
The National Weather Service said it was receiving numerous reports of coastal flooding, and the inundations were getting close to those during the Blizzard of 1978.

It’s official: Boston has broken its record for its highest tide ever recorded, the National Weather Service says.

The weather service says the tide reached 15.16 feet in the city Thursday. The old record was 15.1 feet during the Blizzard of 1978.

The agency, which began recording tide levels in 1921, said Thursday it appeared that the record might have been broken, but that it needed to be confirmed. The confirmation came Friday morning from the National Ocean Service.

The tide peaked at 12:42 p.m. Thursday, weather service officials said.

The effects of the tide, which was driven higher by the storm surge from Thursday’s quick-hitting nor’easter, were experienced in various areas of the city. One memorable image captured on social media was a motorist being taken by firefighters in an inflatable boat from his car, stranded in shallow ocean water near the Aquarium T station on the waterfront.

Weather service meteorologist Kim Buttrick said the tide levels could well have broken records in communities elsewhere along the coast, where flooding was reported, but there were no official gauges there.


“There probably were other records met. But in terms of the data proof, we don’t have anything in front of us,” she said.

The tide was already higher than usual, and it was driven higher by the storm, she said.

The effects of a Jan. 1 supermoon were still being felt. In addition, seas were building “due to a rapidly deepening low-pressure system off shore.”

“And the wind direction was such — the trajectory of the wind out of the northeast and the wind speed, sustained and gusts, just piled the water forward onto land,” she said.

Lower atmospheric pressure causes sea levels to rise, said Glenn Field, warning coordination meteorologist with the weather service. The pressure plummeted rapidly during the “bomb cyclone.”


While the water levels rose slightly higher than in 1978, the storm didn’t do as much damage. One reason was that the 1978 storm lasted over multiple tide cycles, Buttrick noted, while Thursday’s was “a fast-moving storm . . . in and out in 12 hours.”

“There was a lot of disruption yesterday from this nor’easter, but the Blizzard of ’78 caused destruction,” she noted. People might have water in their basements after this storm, but “their house is still standing.”

(A 1978 US Geological Survey report found that more 2,000 coastal homes had been destroyed and thousands more were damaged in the Blizzard of 1978, with the greatest damage in Massachusetts between Marblehead and Plymouth.)

“What we had yesterday was a real widespread inundation,” said Field. “It wasn’t really more intense than we forecast, but it was more extensive than people are used to.”

Buttrick noted that weather service observation sites in Boston, Worcester, Providence, and Hartford had all set records for snowfall on Jan. 4. Boston recorded 13.4 inches, Worcester 16.8, Providence 14.1, and Hartford 10.2

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Thursday that the flooding in the city Thursday underlined the potential problems the city faces from rising waters caused by climate change.