Winter’s Northeast Gales begin Flexing their Muscle along Maine’s Coast

Winter’s Northeast Gales begin Flexing their Muscle along Maine’s Coast
Storm lashes Midcoast Maine

A November 8, 2010 northeast gale lashes Midcoast Maine as Owls Head Lighthouse sends out its guiding light (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

The calendar shows that we’ve just wrapped up the first week of November, but already this month the coast of Maine has witnessed two northeast gales spin their counterclockwise fury along the state’s rugged shoreline.

From Downeast to southern Maine, no coastal area has been spared. 

During a period of three days (November 5-8), the two gales wrought winds gusting upwards to 60-knots at different locations, stirred angry seas that caused damage to marine interests, dropped heavy rain throughout the state’s coastal regions and left a plethora of residential power outages in their wake.

Rockland Breakwater

November 5, 2010 storm swell, along with an astronomical high tide, inundates Rockland Breakwater end to end (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

The northeast gale on November 5th saved its strongest impact for Downeast Maine where Jonesport recorded wind gusts over 50-knots. On November 8th, Southern Maine felt the brunt of the second gale during the early morning hours, with Portland recording a wind gust of 63-knots.

Along Midcoast Maine, the impact of the two storms was felt in different ways. What the region lacked in local winds on the 5th was made up for with a relentless southeast swell that rolled in from the Gulf of Maine on the heels of an astronomical tide. The results were, in a word, inundating.

Recreational boat sinks in Rockland Harbor

A recreational boat broke away from its mooring and sank in Rockland Harbor during the November 5, 2010 gale (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

At the Rockland Breakwater, the combination of a big tide and sweeping sets of swell swallowed up much of the stone breakwater from end to end. In local harbors, the storm was responsible for causing boats to break free from their moorings and ground upon nearby ledges.

Walking along the shoreline near the breakwater, I noticed an inordinate amount of seaweed, driftwood and other debris being tossed about at water’s edge. Just beyond the clutter was evidence that autumn was losing its grip on the season. For riding on the surface of the flood tide were hundreds of leaves, having been stripped from nearby trees, and thrust unceremoniously into the frenzy of the sea before me.

Leaves float upon a flood tide

Autumn leaves are tossed about on the flood tide during the November 5th gale (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Back to my car I went contemplating the awesome power of the sea and the slow demise of fall, but little did I realize that another storm would be calling in just a couple of days.

The gale on the 8th wreaked much of its havoc under the cover of darkness, with the strongest winds and heaviest rains occurring from midnight through 6:00 am. The West Penobscot Bay weather buoy recorded sustained winds as high as 37-knots and wind gusts up to 47-knots.

According to news reports, over 60,000 Maine homes lost electrical power during the storm. National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Roberts was quoted as saying, “The complex storm pattern involved two low pressure systems, one at the surface and the other at upper levels that rotated off the coast from New Jersey to Maine resulting in heavy squalls and blustery conditions.”

Fresnel lens at Owls Head Light

The fourth order Fresnel lens shines bright during the November 8, 2010 gale (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

By the time daylight broke on the 8th, the gale was slowly beginning to move away. Rising early, I headed over to Owls Head Lighthouse to see how the newly restored beacon was faring in the storm.

As expected, my walk to the lighthouse was a sloppy one.

Rainwater was ponding on the dirt road to the light station and a northeast wind was still prevailing. Despite the rain-soaked conditions, there was a certain comfort in hearing the station’s foghorn sound its doleful warning as I made my chilly trek (wind chill was around 32 degrees) to the bluff where the light stands sentinel 80 feet above sea level.

The lone “warmth” that I encountered was seeing the Fresnel lens inside Owls Head Light shining bright. Its guiding beam was being sent out over West Penobscot Bay like always, though I did not see any boats or vessels making their way through the agitated seas.

Rockland Breakwater

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse is barely visible during the gale of November 5, 2010 (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

After checking over the interior of the lighthouse, it was time to go and head to the office for a day’s work, but as I locked the tower’s entry door and turned to go, I was met with a surprise.

Though winter is still roughly six weeks away, wet snowflakes were suddenly swirling around the lighthouse and mixing with the driving rain. The moment was fascinating to observe, but just as I made my way down from the tower’s lofty perch, the snow disappeared within the sheets of rain as quickly as it arrived.

The encounter of snowflakes was a subtle reminder that in the coming weeks and months, winter’s icy grip will no doubt strengthen, and when it does, the fierce power of the northeast gale, which is legend in these parts, will once again be exacting its frigid toll along the coast of Maine.

Lobster boat damaged by storm

A lobster boat broke away from its mooring in Owls Head Harbor during a gale (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Boat high and dry

An ebb tide on November 6th leaves the storm damaged boat in Rockland Harbor high and dry (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)