Winter Storm Kenan, January 2022

Winter on Nantucket is unforgiving. Residents must be self-reliant as Winter storms, Nor’easters, and the risk of the harbor freezing over threatens supply chains and contact with the mainland. Winter requires knowledge of daily tide levels, lunar cycles, and a feeling in one’s bone for the weather ahead. You’ll hear people saying, “I smell the snow coming,” and the old sailor adage, “Red sky at morning sailor take warning.”

I have learned the truth of this while living here for two winters. Winter Storm Kenan was a bomb cyclone progressing up the Atlantic coast. Kenan dropped the barometric pressure 35Mb in 18 hours, making it a powerful hurricane-force storm with gusts reaching 70 mph for Nantucket. Below are my observations as Winter Storm Kenan progressed.  

January 28, 2022

Afternoon: Harbormaster and the Department of Public Works have closed the Children’s Beach gate and moved the auxiliary by-pass flood pump to Children’s Beach in hopes of reducing flood impact. Stop and Shop is busy with people gathering supplies ahead of the storm, including rope, candles, flashlights, plastic sheeting, salt, and any food provisions.

January 29, 2022

8:00 AM: I was awoken by branches hitting the roof as hurricane-force winds swept across the Island. The news warned that flooding and wind damage is a real possibility with this storm. One hour to high tide.

8:15 AM: The power is flickering in and out with the gusts. The news shows about 40 mph wind with gusts up to 60 mph. One of the smaller trees in the yard has succumbed to the wind and toppled, but I don’t think it recovered after the last storm earlier this year. 45 minutes to high tide.

8:30 AM: Luckily, there are no large branches fallen around the Cottage. Hopefully, I can avoid roof damage. There is a shingle buried in the snow, but I don’t think it belongs to the Cottage. 30 minutes to high tide. I will go look and make sure the water isn’t too close. We aren’t near a full moon, so the tide shouldn’t be too high, and the worst of the wind won’t arrive until after high tide. Once again, Nantucket gets lucky.   

8:45 AM: There is water creeping up Commercial Wharf and bubbling up the drain on the corner of Coffin and Washington. Not too bad, but it depends on how much higher the water will rise and how the wind will affect its behavior. People are beginning to report power outages in Warren Landing, Meadow View Drive, Equator/Friendship area, and Surfside. National Grid is reporting that Madaket is without power. Ice is building on the powerlines; we will absolutely lose power if it remains. I have moved all my blankets onto my bed in case. 15 minutes to high tide.  

8:56 AM: We are nearing high tide, but I doubt the cottages will be affected just looking at how far the water has to go to be near us. But there is always a risk and the need to be prepared. The snow is coming down hard now, and the wind has really picked up. If the water comes too close, I will rouse Cottage A and B folks to retreat to Sherburne Hall. I have never seen so much snow, and this is just the beginning.  

9:05 AM: I am writing this after going out at high tide to monitor flooding progression. I first walked to the corner of Coffin and Washington, but no one was driving down Washington. All were turning around, so the flooding must be bad. I can’t get close enough because of the water on Coffin Street to see around the corner. I walked back to the Cottages and went around the backside of my Cottage to get a view of Washington Street and the harbor. The waves in the harbor were huge and easily overtaking the bulkheads. The road and all coastal property were flooded, but the wetland next door had not begun to collect water. If it does, that is when I will retreat. Ice is falling from the powerlines, which is good. Hopefully, that means the power won’t go out in Town. Forecasts say the wind will worsen from now as the tide begins to retreat.

9:21 AM: The power is going in and out more, but I don’t think I will lose it.

9:38 AM: More reports of power going out across the Island, this time the entire southeast quadrant.

10:30 AM: The water is starting to recede, but the waves are still huge. I predict some damage to the Town Pier and Great Harbor Yacht Club’s walkway. I hope the houses along the beach will survive this. I am no longer worried about flooding. Power outages and wind damage are top concerns.  

11 AM: The entire east side of the Island and Madaket are without power. There is still water on Washington Street, but it isn’t progressing. I think it is just what is flowing up the drains.

1 PM: Flooding continues in coastal areas. People are sharing many photographs and videos on social media, which helps document what is going on. The power still flickers on occasion at the Cottage.

3 PM: Most of the Island is without power, but somehow, the Town maintains connection. The snow is beginning to drift as it falls. It was at my ankle in one section, and two steps later, it was up to my knee. The water has receded from Washington Street, but standing water remains on the open land.   

Following the storm is a beautiful sunny day. The primary damage was fallen trees, loose shingles, and a lot of snow and ice. Parts of the Island are still without power, but National Grid has sent over trucks to assist with recovery. Nantucket High School is open as a warming shelter for those who have lost power. As predicted, there is some damage to the Town Pier and the public walkway at the Great Harbor Yacht Club. The NOAA tide gauge data shows that we reached 6.58 feet above mean low-low tide (MLLW). To put into perspective, that puts this storm at 3.08 feet MHHW, or the seventh-highest water level in the tide gauge’s data history (as of April 2018). There are only small pockets of the Island without power by Monday, and flights are to resume Tuesday. Roads are mostly clear of snow and ice, but it will take a while to melt.

Be safe, and happy researching!
Kimberly Rose, co-Director Preservation Institute Nantucket (PIN)

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