Blizzard Of '13 Rearranged Parts Of Cape Cod National Seashore

The "Blizzard of '13" dismantled this stairway down to Nauset Beach at Cape Cod National Seashore. NPS photo.

While Hurricane Sandy walloped a good section of the Eastern Seaboard, it was a snowstorm dubbed Nemo by some that did substantial damage to Cape Cod National Seashore.

“We had a heck of a storm from the 'Blizzard of ’13', that’s for sure,” said Cape Cod Superintendent George Price.

Sandy, which tore into Fire Island National Seashore, Gateway National Recreation Area, the Statue of Liberty, and Assateague Island National Seashore, just to name a few units of the National Park System affected by that hurricane last October, fell south of Cape Cod.

“We missed that bullet," Superintendent Price said. "We had regular high seas and that sort of thing, but it certainly wasn't close to a direct hit."

And then on February 10 came along the Blizzard of '13, which weather.com dubbed Nemo. The aftermath at Cape Cod National Seashore is obvious in stairs leading down to beaches being torn in half, dunes being ripped into, dangerous fissures along cliff tops, and tons of sand burying parking lots.

"Over the course of the winter so far, we had enough storm activity that it really scoured away what was left of the normal beach sand. So that by the time we were hit by the Blizzard of ’13, which was a substantial hit, that actually did a whole bunch of scouring," the superintendent said. "In some places (dunes) came in as far as 15 feet, in other places it just was very impressive to where it undercut a lot of our cliffs up here.

"If you’re familiar with the bluffs, basically from Eastham north, even right now it’s pretty dangerous to walk on the top of them to the edge to look over because there might not be anything underneath," he said.

“In some cases we have what we call large slumping taking place, where you have the edge, but actually anywhere from 3 to 15, 20 feet back (on the cliff top), you’ll actually see a break in the ground, like a fissure, where there might be a clay lens that water has seeped down and weakened all that area," continued the superintendent. "And the whole thing can go down at once. It’s pretty impressive when you see it, and it can be fatal if you’re either standing on top or at the bottom.”

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These photos reflect the storm damage at Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod National Seashore. The top photo was taken in January 2013, the bottom photo the day after the February 10 'Blizzard of '13" walloped the seashore. Note the slimmer beach and the rearranged dunes. NPS photos.
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Farther north, at Herring Cove Beach at Provincetown, the blizzard deposited sand 10-12 inches deep on the parking lot.

Today, nearly a month after the storm, access at the national seashore is restricted in places due both to structural damage and erosion. There currently is no beach access at Nauset Light or Marconi beaches, and access at the Marconi Station Site is limited to the observation deck.

For now, while the park staff can repair or replace the damaged stairs, there is little they can do with the undercut and cracked cliffs.

“Frankly, on the ocean side, it’s allowing nature to take its course," Superintendent Price responded when asked what can be done with the eroded cliffs. "This North Atlantic face, it’s foolhardy to try to attempt to mitigate anything. And the impact to private property especially is pretty dramatic. Every year there's a house or two that either has to be demolished or it’s going to fall over. This year as a result of Sandy, the town of Eastham has had to officially close one of the roads that’s now undermined by the erosion, and there are still people at the far end of that road that have to figure out a new access to get to their house."

As for the wooden stairs down to the beaches at Nauset Light and Marconi Beach, repairs to those at Nauset Light will mark the fourth time the seashore has had to do that since Superintendent Price arrived in 2007, and the third time at Marconi Beach.

"Three years ago we had substantial damage. It wasn’t one storm, but it was a series of five nor’easters between January and May and we had about $1 million worth of damage here, including both stairs being totally ripped out and taken out by the storms. So they had to be replaced from scratch," he said. "At this point, what’s damaged is basically the bottom couple of sections. In one case, the bottom section is gone, in another case it’s suspended in mid-air.”