We surely don’t have to tell anyone how the weather has been here on Cape Cod this winter. Those who remember are comparing our recent weather systems to the Blizzard of 1978. Many Massachusetts residents’ most prominent recollection of that infamous storm usually involve being stranded somewhere away from home, either at The Boston Gardens for the 29th annual Beanpot, on the highways in a vehicle, or, luckily, in a random hotel making new friends. After the storm passed, there was a driving ban everywhere in Massachusetts except on Cape Cod. Certainly that does not mean Cape Cod was spared. The wide eye of the storm passed directly over Wellfleet. It was an amazing weather anomaly. The water in Wellfleet Harbor was perfectly calm, and as the tide came in the water flooded over the pier and over Commercial St. There was not a breath of wind and the temperatures remained balmy. The eye of the storm spanned from Truro to South Eastham as it slowly passed. While fishermen tending their boats in Provincetown struggled to stay on the pier (as opposed to being blown off) and the majestic trees that were in front of the Orleans Courthouse toppled like dominoes due the wind, a crowd of spectators gathered at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham to witness nature’s show of power.
The Coast Guard Beach that we all know and love was very different prior to the Blizzard of 1978 and a very dramatic example of how quickly changes to Cape Cod’s shoreline can occur. Prior to the storm there was a parking area situated on the Eastham side of Nauset Spit with a bathhouse on the side of the parking lot toward the ocean. Between the bathhouse and ocean was forty to fifty feet of low barrier coastal dunes. This parking lot was also used for ORV access to the Eastham side of Nauset Spit. In addition, Nauset Spit had beachside camps (cottages), including naturalist Henry Beston’s Outermost House the subject of his book with the same title. The Blizzard of 1978 changed all of this overnight. On an interesting side note ORVs were banned from Eastham’s beaches in 1978.
On February 6th, 1978 the storm hit the beaches of Cape Cod with its full fury. The powerful wind pushed a storm surge ahead of it and the combination of the storm surge and high tides obliterated the low barrier dunes and swept across the parking lot, knocking the bath house pavilion off its foundation.
A VW bug sits in Coast Guard beach’s flooded lot. This car had been overtaken by the incoming tide. Some people tell stories of standing on the hill above, watching this car surf in and out on the waves. Oral traditions indicated that the owners changed the sparkplugs after the storm and drove it away!