Nauset Beach before the blizzard hit. (Martine Powers/Globe Staff) [[SLIDE]]
ORLEANS—Cape Cod residents braced Friday for problems with high winds and an angry ocean.
Winds set to whip the coast with gusts up to 70 miles per hour through Saturday are expected to churn the ocean and push it over its bounds during high tides, flooding roads and causing damage to buildings, particularly during the Saturday morning tide.
The National Weather Service predicts that eastern Chatham Saturday morning could see waves up to 31 feet high, along with a 3-foot storm surge.
On Nauset Beach Friday afternoon, locals drove to the beach parking lot with the hopes of catching spectacular wave action. But few ventured out into the swirling snow and rain.
Two exceptions: Julie Guibord, 60, and Rick Paulus, 52, walked their two dogs down the coastline, with nary a qualm about the stinging wind and crashing waves.
“Pretty nice, huh?” joked Paulus, who wore full-body snow gear that left a small circle on his face exposed. “We walk every day, rain or snow.”
The couple’s dogs—Luna, a Weimaraner, and Dude, a husky-retriever mix—seemed pleased by the unusually blustery conditions on their daily outing.
“The first five minutes is a little miserable,” Paulus said.
“But we’re pretty dry in here,” said Guibord, indicating her shoulder-high, one-piece snowsuit.
Paulus, a lifelong resident of the Cape, recalled sitting with friends on a nearby bluff during the Blizzard of ‘78, watching waves pound vacation homes into the sea. This time, he said, he plans to stay safe and dry inside. He didn’t even bother joining long lines at the gas station to fill his tank.
“The idea is not to go anywhere,” he said.
And even though they were the only ones in sight on the beach, they expected more to come later as the snow begins to accumulate and winds crank up several notches.
“This parking lot is going to be jammed,” Paulus said.
Sandwich High School was open Friday and serving as an emergency shelter for upper Cape residents who feared power outages and snow-blocked entrances at their homes.
By 5 p.m., two people had arrived, intending to stay the night. Michael White, of Falmouth, and Emilie O’Loughlin, of Cotuit, both came to the shelter because of medical equipment they use that requires an electricity source.
They couldn’t take the risk of what could happen if power goes out at their homes, they said. “If the power went out, that would be life-threatening for me,” said O’Loughlin, 71, who added that she was impressed with the comfortable service and friendly faces offered by the American Red Cross at the shelter.
White, 51, said at first he had been skeptical about whether it would be necessary for him to come to a shelter. “You wonder if it’s going to be as bad as the weather guys say it’s going to be,” White said.
“How many times have we been through this, and it fizzles out?” Early Friday afternoon, he said, he was unimpressed by the mix of rain and snow that had failed to cause any accumulation on the roads.
But just a few hours later, he said, he knew this one was a doozie. “It’s coming down pretty heavy, isn’t it?” White said. The thick snowfall, he said, reminded him of the first few hours of the 1978 blizzard. That storm, he said, was not one to be messed with.
“I remember the snow, the way it drifted up almost to the roof of our barn,” White said. “It took us a good two weeks to dig the snow out of our driveway.” O’Loughlin agreed. She recalled the 1978 storm, too—and knew she didn’t want to end up at home if this weekend’s blizzard turns out to wreak similar damage. “I know what a storm like this can do,” she said.
Meanwhile, all hands were on deck in Chatham, with crews working to secure public properties near the waterfront and ensuring that boats are tied down, said Harbormaster Stuart Smith.
Smith expected the heavy snow to deter would-be weather watchers away from the shore during the storm’s height.
“I think the snow is going to keep the folks down,” Smith said. “The water and wind and waves will still be turning up on Sunday. Hopefully, people will wait until then, when the roads are clear.”
In Provincetown, Harbormaster Rex McKinsey said: “We’re not worried about snow. It’s wind. All wind.”
McKinsey said he expected MacMillan Pier, which stretches 1,500 feet into Cape Cod Bay, would be damaged by a combination of 50 mile-per-hour winds, 14-15-foot waves, more than a foot of storm surge, and heavy snow expected at the storm’s height Saturday morning.
In Barnstable, Harbormaster Dan Horn says Saturday’s predicted storm surge is cause for concern. If predictions hold, the north side of town could see a storm surge upwards of four feet, “which could cause some moderate to more than moderate erosion,” he said.