Tuesday’s visit by a tornado to Cape Cod got us thinking about the relative amount of disruption, discomfort and mayhem posed by different sorts of storms that come knocking on the Cape, along with their quirks and any silver linings.
The Cape actually doesn’t see too many of these, especially compared to inland parts of the nation, where the sky on more than a few summer afternoons turns into a steamy dark cauldron, followed by booming thunder and lightning streaking through the sky.
Here, thunderstorms tend to pass quickly, and often reside off in the distance, over, say, Plymouth, or the ocean.
But Monday night, Tornado Eve brought an up-close-and-personal thunderstorm to the Cape, complete with lightning and ear-splitting thunder that shook houses, followed by torrential rain. Not something you wanted to be out in.
Advance warning: Enough.
How scary: Not too, but can be.
Discomfort: Usually minimal.
Aftermath: Unless your house is struck by lightning, some tree branches on the ground and puddles in the road.
This is a Cape Cod specialty: you’ll experience them in other places, but rarely inland and not all that often along other sections of the East Coast.
Cape Cod, on the other hand, stuck out in the ocean, is a magnet for them. In the colder months, the question is not whether the Cape will have a northeast storm, but when. And when the next one’s coming after that.
In contrast to thunderstorms, which race by, northeast storms will park themselves here for hours, often dominating an entire day’s weather with high winds and cold, driving rain. You can function outdoors in a northeast storm, but you don’t want to.
Advance warning: More than adequate.
How scary: Not terribly, but they can have their moments.
Discomfort: More like a bother, unless the power is knocked out, because it could be a long day or night until it’s restored.
Aftermath: Branches on the ground. At least a few fallen trees.
Relative rarities on the Cape, which is no stranger to high winds but doesn’t often see heavy snow.
When the two combine, though, watch out. The ferocity of a Cape Cod blizzard would command respect in the Snow Belt of upstate New York or the winter plains of the upper Midwest.
Unlike upstate New York or the upper Midwest, however, the Cape doesn’t have much of a snow plow ethos, so it can take days to clear all the roads of their heavy white blanket.
Further, the high winds routinely knock out power, leading to some long cold stretches inside homes.
Advance warning: Usually good, but not always.
How scary: Scary enough.
Discomfort: Significant. Even if you can get out of the house, you can’t go anywhere. And indoors, you’ve probably lost power and heat. You may not get it back for hours… or days…
Aftermath: Can you shovel out your driveway? Has your road been plowed? If not, you’re probably pinned down, likely for longer than you’d like.
Almost 30 years have passed since the last one of any strength, Bob, hit Cape Cod in 1991.
And while Bob was a relative weakling, the destruction wrought by the storm—mostly downed trees and power lines—hamstrung the Cape for weeks.
Giving rise to the thought: what happens when a really serious hurricane roars in, as in 1938?
Along the Atlantic coast, hurricanes are unmatched as storms in the widespread devastation they can cause. Pray they keep missing us.
Advance warning: Very good, but not guaranteed. Bob essentially snuck up on the Cape.
How scary: Very.
Discomfort: Over the top. Don’t go outdoors. And don’t count on feeling comfortable anytime soon.
Aftermath: Power out for days or weeks, not hours… trees fallen on houses and blocking roads… near-paralysis that only slowly ebbs away.
Thankfully, they’re extremely rare on Cape Cod. To that end, Tuesday’s tornado merited inclusion on the national news.
Nearly all of what we know on the Cape, aside from earlier this week, comes from seeing about what these storms wreak in the South and the Midwest.
Tornados are all or nothing. If they miss your house, you’re fine. If not… get ready to build a new house. And pray you’re still alive to do it.
Advance warning: Not much.
How scary: Terrifying.
Discomfort: Usually temporary. Tornados move fast. Cellars may be clammy and claustrophobic, but you won’t have to stay down there long. And your life can continue.
Aftermath: If the tornado missed your house, you’ll probably be fine—unless an associated microburst ran through your neighborhood, or the high winds cut your power.
So there you have it: a concise ratings guide to storms you may encounter on the Cape. Tuck it away for reference. And hope that you don’t have to pull it out anytime soon.