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 American Lighthouse Foundation, Inc.

P.O. Box 565

Rockland, Maine 04841

Phone: 207-594-4174

 

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The American Lighthouse  Foundation is a  Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Organization dedicated  to the preservation of America's historic lighthouses.

 

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Blizzard of 2006 and

 Lighthouse Preservation

 

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

 

 
 
The “Blizzard of 2006” that occurred on February 11th & 12th was a fearsome winter storm for many parts of the Atlantic seaboard. National weather prognosticators warned residents stretching from the Tennessee River Valley, through the mid-Atlantic region all the way north to Maine that blizzard or “white out” conditions were in the offing. Accu Weather

Cutler Harbor

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.   

Snow begins to blow over Cutler Harbor, Maine on Sunday, February 12, 2006

 
 

 noted in advance of the storm that, “Winds will crank to gale strength…at the height of the storm, which holds blizzard potential, heavy snowfall in tandem with blowing and drifting will make travel hazardous and it may become all but impossible in areas of heaviest snowfall.”

 

Spending the weekend in Downeast Maine as the northeaster worked its way up the coast, my thoughts drifted off contemplating the well being of the many lighthouses standing directly in the path of this pending winter onslaught. Such thoughts became more profound on the heels of a National Weather Service special alert for coastal Downeast on Saturday, February 11th, which stated, “Blizzard warning in effect from 7 AM Sunday to 3 AM EST Monday.” The warning went on to state, “This storm will have an extreme impact on the warning area. Very strong winds of 30 to 40 MPH combined with heavy snow will create potentially deadly outdoor conditions.”

 

The lighthouse closest to where I was staying for the weekend was one of ours – Little River Light Station at the head of Cutler Harbor, which is

 
 

Little River Light Station

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.     

Little River Light Station

 Maine

owned by the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF) through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Since 2002 ALF volunteers have worked to restore the remote island site to its former glory. Four years and $225,000 later at the end of the 2005 work season, the light station was approximately 80% restored. Though Little
 
 

River Light Station has weathered countless storms similar to the approaching northeaster, each new storm attacks a lighthouse at a different stage of restoration – or deterioration, which makes its potential impact an anxiety-filled unknown.

 

Could this snowstorm turned blizzard wreak havoc on Little River and other lighthouses from Maine to the mouth of the Delaware Bay? The answer was obviously “yes,” which served as a stark reminder as to why it is so critical that the lighthouse preservation community maintains a steadfast, dutiful watch with ensuring that our restoration projects do not suffer from a loss of momentum. History teaches all too often that mighty gales and hurricanes come and go in a brief moment, but their devastating impact can sometimes last forever in the irreparable or total loss of a lighthouse.

 

A walk outside on Saturday night revealed an eerie sereneness that would have no doubt told many old timers in the days when lighthouses were

 
 
manned that something “was afoot” weather-wise. The air was frigid and the winds dead calm. Overhead was a starlit sky and a full moon shining it milky white glow over a lonely seascape of shadows and silence. My thoughts immediately pondered the fact that such a tranquil scene would soon be vanquished in a matter of hours and replaced by a whirling 

Slush and ice float atop the waters

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.     

Slush and ice float atop the waters

of  Downeast Maine before the

 blizzard's arrival

 
 

dervish of suffocating white stuff. With that thought in hand, I walked back inside for the night.

 

By 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning on February 12th the breeze noticeably picked up, while stray snowflakes “bounced” chaotically up and down upon the air at the whim of the building wind. A look to the edge of the rocky shoreline revealed a plethora of slush and ice floating atop the water, lurching forward before falling back in rhythmic fashion on the ebbing tide. Meanwhile rolling cloudbanks of gray over Grand Manan Channel exuded an ominous feeling, as all traces of the warming sun would be banished from the sky, on this day to remember.

 

Inside the protective confines of Cutler Harbor a fleet of lobster boats are firmly secured to their moorings. With the blizzard’s arrival only hours

 
 

Cutler Harbor's lobster boats

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.     

Cutler Harbor's lobster boats are securely moored as the snow begins to fall

away, the harbor is ghostly quiet. Just outside the snug harbor the sea conditions on Grand Manan Channel are beginning to become quite harrowing. White caps danced atop up-heaving swells, making for a turbulent seascape that promised to become much worse as the snowstorm strengthened its hold on the region.

 

 
 

One need not be on the island at Little River to imagine what the sea was capable of doing at such an exposed location. The visible watery chaos on the horizon conjured up a stark image of the vastness of the ocean and how it draws its devastating power from the deep, which then careens landward with unabated fury before exploding atop the rocky ledges and shoreline. In fact, it was quite evident that the seas were increasing in size and rage by the hour – presenting the appearance of a boiling caldron as storm winds whipped to frenzy.

 

Would the keeper’s house – a charming clapboard structure situated on the northeast side of Little River Island and directly in the path of the powerful blizzard, withstand the potentially damaging winds? Periodically throughout the history of the light station, strong northeast storms spawning towering waves were known to douse the unprotected dwelling with a bath of saltwater over-spray as rogue walls of water broke apart on the rocks in the face of a furious wind.

 

By 9:00 a.m. the distant islands are no longer visible as a distant sullen sky and angry sea have meshed to become one gray mass with no

 
 
discernable beginning or end. The suffocating atmospheric conditions are quickly deteriorating to “white out” atop the seascape. The National Weather Service forecast for the remainder of Sunday was less than encouraging, stating, “N winds 30 to 40 knots with gusts up to 50 knots…seas 10 to 15 feet.” The moment of truth had arrived for

Snow covers the coastline

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.     

By midday on Sunday, snow from the northeast storm covered the coastline

 
 

Downeast Maine and there was no place to hide.  

 

The storm’s wrath was felt most by mid afternoon into evening on Sunday as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather buoy off nearby Jonesport, Maine, recorded sustained gale force winds with gusts of 45 MPH and waves between 10 and 14 feet. In addition to the powerful winds and seas, blinding snow was whipping across the coast in horizontal fashion – conditions that would make anyone run for cover to a warm and dry place. During the overnight hours from Sunday into Monday however, the northeaster moved off the coast of Maine and up into the Canadian Maritimes, as the sun returned to invigorate a bright winter blue sky in the wake of the tempest.

 

Unable to access the island following the storm, the American Lighthouse Foundation is uncertain as to what impact – if any, the gale might have

 
 

Looking out over Holmes Bay

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.     

Looking out over Holmes Bay as daylight

ends reveals the tidal flats covered in a

layer of snow as far as the eye could see

had on the buildings and trees of Little River Island. As lighthouse preservationists though, our collective concerns for the projects we hold dear are always heightened during these storms. Will all our hard work over the years be shattered in a moment by the storm’s onslaught? How will this affect our plans for
 
 

2006 and beyond? If there is serious damage, where will the extra funds come from to enact emergency repairs?

 

All these are legitimate concerns – potential issues that all lighthouse preservation organizations must wrestle with as we work to plan for the unknown. Maybe the “Blizzard of 2006” didn’t harm our lighthouses but the next storm might. Are we prepared to react in a timely and effective manner to safeguard our lighthouses should such a meteorological calamity befall our project? We can never account for every adverse circumstance that could potentially impact our lighthouses – there simply isn’t enough time, money or volunteers to ensure so.

 

That said, the “Blizzard of 2006” should serve as a reminder to all lighthouse preservationists that our hold on these coastal sites is a tenuous one, and without a complete and sustainable commitment to their protection, we expose these stately beacons to further harm at the hands of the unforgiving elements. As keepers of the lights, we should strive to take comfort in the ability to say with a clear conscious that we’ve put forth our very best efforts to safeguard our lighthouses from such harm. We can only do our best and let the rest remain in the hands of fate, but let’s constantly encourage our comrades to do just that – our very best!

 

 
       
 

 

 
 

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