A little trip in the WABAC Machine:
The summer of 1991 landed between college and graduate school for me. I’d spent June and part of July in New Orleans on a research assistantship at my alma mater, Tulane University, from which I’d graduated in May. Then I came back home to Boston.
Since I was a kid, my parents had been going to Cape Cod for summer vacation. My parents were divorced by this time, so my Mom went down for one week and my Dad for the other week, with my sister Katy and I joining them for both weeks. On this trip, my Dad took the first week. When my Mom arrived on Saturday, August 17 for the second week, I think Hurricane Bob was already on the radar screens.
The catch for me was that my plan was to leave the Cape on Wednesday, August 21, driving up to gather my things and stay with my Dad before driving to grad school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. But as the week wore on, Bob was looking like a very serious hurricane, and it wasn’t at all clear that I’d be able to leave on time.
The records say that Bob made landfall in Rhode Island around 2 pm EDT on Monday, August 19, and apparently blasted its way across Rhode Island and Massachusetts during the course of the afternoon. The Wikipedia entry on Bob says that, “In Massachusetts, thousands of residents evacuated Cape Cod, leading to an 11 mi backup on the Sagamore Bridge.” We didn’t leave, but stayed in our little cottage.
Halfway out the Cape as we were, the winds were not too bad. I don’t recall thinking we were ever in any real danger, although the power got knocked out pretty early. Our cottage is located near a beach which is one of the few places where you can see the sun set over the water on the east coast, which also meant we were looking towards Boston from the shore. Sometime in the afternoon the winds and rain died down – I think it was more-or-less the (very large) eye of the storm – and I walked down to the beach and saw the very dark clouds drifting northwards in the vicinity of Boston.
We had loaded up on candles, but went to bed early as it was difficult to get much reading (or anything else) done in the pitch dark, even by candlelight.
Tuesday morning we got up. The power was still out, but the storm was over and the sun was out. Walking down to the main road it was easy to see why things hadn’t changed: Dozens of huge tree limbs had fallen on the road, making it impassable to cars. We were stuck there. I don’t remember what we did during the day – I think we’d stocked up on food, and we probably just hung out and read, and walked down to the beach – but it sure didn’t look like I’d be leaving the next morning.
I was wrong: By the next morning, trucks had come through and carted away, or carved up and pushed to the side of the road, every branch on the main road. I think I took my car out and drove around a bit and decided that everything looked safe to drive. So I packed up my car and left.
And sure enough, the drive home was perfectly fine. I was able to make it home, gather up all my things, spend a little time with Dad (I think power was restored around Boston much more quickly), and head off to graduate school exactly as planned. (My various adventures in cross-country driving during college and grad school are a story for another time.)
Mom told me that the power didn’t come on until late in the week, perhaps Friday, and they came home on Saturday, which made for a rather suboptimal vacation for them. I think they went to bed early, got up early, and drove around the Cape looking for things to do that didn’t require electricity.
Apparently this was the first storm during my lifetime to significantly alter the offshore landscape around Chatham Light – the area is significantly different today from when I was a kid. The area there continues to erode and it wouldn’t surprise me if they have to physically move the lighthouse in my lifetime.
I’ve always loved rainstorms, and this was one of the most memorable I’ve experienced. I’ll always remember the view from the beach in the storm’s lull, and my luck at being able to get off the Cape on schedule.
(I hope everyone makes it through Sandy so well!)