Let’s take a look at nine of the wildest storms and worst weather on Cape Cod and Islands in the last 100 years.The ocean is an integral part of the identity of Cape Cod and the Islands. Vacationers flock to the region in the summers for warm beaches, gentle breezes, and relaxation. Yet as anyone who’s spent time on the Cape and Islands in the off season can attest, it’s not always sunny, and warm beach days.
Ferocious late summer, fall, and winter storms have battered Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cuttyhunk, and Plymouth with high winds, inches of rain, high seas, and damaging storm surges. These storms have sunk fishing vessels and sailboats, destroyed homes, eroded coastlines, flooded areas, and taken lives.
As the climate changes and sea levels rise, the worst weather on the Cape & Islands is likely to only increase in frequency and ferocity.
It’s important to be prepared for storms, whatever time of year they may be. Make a plan for potential flooding, power outages, heavy snowfall, high winds, and cold temperatures.
Let’s take a look back at the worst weather on Cape Cod and Islands to explore the impacts of the wild weather.
From Easy Street, the Nantucket Waterfront sports markings of the levels of historic flooding events on Nantucket.
1. October 30th, 1991
This nor’easter battered the North Atlantic, causing some of the worst weather on the Cape and Islands. It was known as The No-Name Storm, The Halloween Gale, and as a collision between a nor’easter and Hurricane Grace but is best remembered as The Perfect Storm. The moniker, coined by Sebastian Junger in his book detailing the loss of F/V Andrea Gail, was also the title of the subsequent film detailing the storm and its impacts.
“Meteorologists see perfect in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. My God, thought Case, this is the perfect storm.” -Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm
The perfect storm came about when a high-pressure system, a low-pressure system, and the remnants of Hurricane Grace combined offshore into a force to be reckoned with. The worst impacts of the storm were offshore, with buoys off the coast of Massachusetts recording record wave heights.
In Chatham gusts of wind up to 78 mph were recorded and coastal flooding was severe in many areas. Nantucket faced gale force winds, and flooding. The storm corresponded with a new moon and astronomically high tides, and the Northeast winds and breakers battered Nantucket Harbor. In her Journal of the No-Name Storm in Historic Nantucket Fall 2001, Susan Beegel wrote, “It’s getting dark, so we drive into town. Washington Street is open now, although parts of it are still flooded. Sayle’s Seafood’s sign is leaning against a building more than a block from the store. The houses have toppled fences, mangled porches, and arbors, and broken win-dows. There is a huge sailboat crushing a sign that says, “No Parking This Side.”
2. January 4th, 2018
This contender for worst weather on Cape Cod and the Islands was known as The Blizzard of January 4th, 2018, a historic bomb cyclone, Winter Storm Grayson, or Storm Brody. The storm came amid a blast of arctic cold air, and it resulted in a state of emergency declaration in Massachusetts. The winds were hurricane force on Nantucket, gusting to 76 mph. In Boston at least 17 inches of snow fell, coupled with a 15+ ft storm tide. Coastal flooding along Cape Cod Bay also resulted, including in Plymouth, Chatham, and Nantucket.
3. February 9th, 2013
Known as Winter Storm Nemo or the blizzard of 2013, this contender for the worst weather on the Cape and Islands was a major winter storm. In Boston 24.9 inches of snow fell. Just off the coast of Cuttyhunk Buzzards Bay recorded 84 mph wind speeds. Some areas in Coastal Massachusetts recorded snowfall rates of 2-3 inches per hour!
4. December 12th, 1992
This Nor’easter brought 15 ft waves crashing ashore, eroding shorelines, and causing destruction. There were record tides and record snowfall, and many houses were destroyed in Nantucket. The storm also caused 20 pilot whales to beach along the Cape, of which 7 died.
5. January 23, 2005
This three-day blizzard coated the Cape and Islands with snow. In Mashpee snowfall measured 30.5 inches, and 30 inches of snow were measured on Sagamore Beach. The snowfall alone doesn’t earn this blizzard a spot on the worst weather on the Cape and Islands, but the winds gusting over 80 mph on Nantucket and Cape Cod help!
6. October 29, 2012
This storm, remembered as Hurricane Sandy, brought 60+ mph wind gusts and heavy coastal flooding to Falmouth and Barnstable. A buoy off of Cuttyhunk recorded 83 mph wind gusts.
7. August 19th, 1991
Hurricane Bob brought sustained hurricane force winds of 75-100 mph to Cape Cod and the Islands. Brewster and North Truro recorded gusts of 125 mph, and North Truro endured sustained winds of 100 mph. The storm surge in Buzzards Bay rose to 15 feet. Boats were torn from their moorings, trees and utility poles were smashed, homes were destroyed, and coastlines eroded. In Mashpee and Bourne the storm surge was 12-15 ft. Astoundingly some southern facing shorelines along Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket lost up to 50 ft of shoreline. The storm certainly earned its spot among the worst weather on the Cape and Islands.
8. September 11th, 1954
Hurricane Edna and Hurricane Carrol passed over the region days apart, causing a one-two punch of the worst weather on the Cape and Islands. Hurricane Carrol came first, soaking the region with rain, so when Hurricane Edna passed over, the ground was already saturated, causing severe flooding on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod. The storm brought sustained 75-95 mph winds to the region with gusts up to 120 mph recorded on Martha’s Vineyard. The heavy rainfall caused severe flooding, erosion of shorelines, and general destruction. All of the Cape and Islands lost power. There was a six-foot storm surge, and many boats were lost as a result.
9. Great New England Hurricane of 1938
This storm, known as the “Hurricane of the Century,” brought with it a storm surge and 18–25-foot tides. This bit of the worst weather on the Cape and Islands buried sections of Falmouth under 8 feet of water. The fishing fleet suffered tremendous losses in this storm, with 2,605 boats destroyed and another 3,369.