A tornado. In Harwich?
Unbelievable as it seems, that's what National Weather Service officials say happened – in Harwich and in Yarmouth – Tuesday. Viewing the devastation in Harwich Center, it was easy to believe. Many mature trees were knocked to the ground, branches fell on vehicles and buildings, and the front lawn of Brooks Academy looked, well, as if a tornado had struck. Front end loaders had to be used to clear debris from roadways. In Yarmouth, ia motel roof was torn off.
A precursor of sorts came late Monday night when a tornado warning was issued, triggering blaring cell phone alarms, but other than distant lightning, the weather system passed without incident. Tuesday, an intense line of storms barreled east in the late morning, with an intense cell, glowing bright red on radar screens, skipping along the Cape's south coast. Again, the tornado warning came, and then the news that radar had picked up a debris field in Yarmouth, and then in Harwich. Here at The Chronicle office, we watched as a brief blast of hurricane-strength winds bent trees and blew shingles from roofs. And then it was over and the sun came out.
It didn't take long to realize that while the weather system had passed, its effects would be felt for some time. Trees that had weathered hurricanes and nor'easters were toppled, branches feet in circumference were snapped like twigs, littering roadways and properties throughout Harwich and Chatham. Many took down utility lines, creating dangerous situations and leaving thousands without power.
Do we need another reminder about the folly of overhead utility wires? About the cost of restringing wires and restoring power? 'Nuff said about that for now.
In addition to the devastation, we witnessed some hopeful scenes during this disaster. As the tornado was racing eastward, The Chronicle opened its doors to some visitors from Texas who might otherwise have been stranded in their van. And we were the recipient of lots of random kindness as well; loyal readers have been sending us valuable storm reports and photos, and we had an offer from the Chatham Fire Department to allow us to set up an impromptu workstation to help produce this week's print edition. We thank our readers for their patience when it comes to receiving their papers this week!
As we drove through neighborhoods ravaged by the storm, we saw neighbors helping neighbors, using chainsaws and rakes, or offering cold drinks to friends who were doing work. At intersections with no traffic signals and at gas stations with long lines, we witnessed a rare commodity in times of disaster: people with patience. Some even stopped to help direct traffic. We urge everyone to continue being patient with one another as the cleanup continues.
Heroes have emerged from this disaster already. Public works officials and first responders worked long hours, showing stamina, perseverance and ingenuity in solving problems. We can be proud of our town and state governments for their prompt and effective response to the emergency. Eversource brought more than 100 crews into the area and, together with crews from DPWs and the state forest fire control group, worked around the clock to clear debris and restore power.
Thankfully, no storm related injuries were reported, and the tornado didn't happen last weekend, when the loss of power could have had fatal results given the 90-plus-degree heat. Scientists are careful to distinguish between climate and weather. What we experienced Tuesday was weather, in its most powerful form, but we suspect that climate change had something to do with a weather event as rare as a tornado touching down on Cape Cod. Like the 100-year storms that seem to happens every year, expecting the unexpected is now our new normal.