Digest>Archives> December 2007

Groundhog Day Gale of 1976

By Ronald Pesha


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Light Radio beacon tower to left, Keepers’ house ...
Photo by: Gary Craig, USCG Retired

“The Sunday radio weather forecast called for high seas and high winds, but not gale force,” said Gary Craig. Coast Guardsman Craig was engineering officer at Eastern Point Light Station on Cape Ann near Gloucester, Massachusetts. He lived with his family in the 1879 keepers’ house.

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A close-up view of the damaged garage, showing ...
Photo by: Gary Craig, USCG Retired

“The storm hit full force the next morning, taking everyone by surprise. “Monday was Groundhog Day, February 2, 1976. We started getting calls from other Coast Guard stations. Fishing vessels were having trouble not only getting back to Gloucester, but all the way from Boston up to Portland Harbor.”

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Looking through the damaged garage, note the ...
Photo by: Gary Craig, USCG Retired

The storm rose all afternoon, high winds compounding a high tide with the ocean swelling, scowling, scouring hundreds of miles of coastline.

“Seas pounded the dwelling, breaking up over the house with salt water running down the driveway,” said Craig. “Our son Gary Jr., (9), and Tammy Bea (6), were so inquisitive

I couldn’t keep them away from the windows.” Two storm windows broke, but the old wooden sash windows remained intact. “My wife Patti was constantly cleaning up water.”

Historical accounts call the gale a “true nor’easter,” a convergence of anomalistic, synodical, and tropical monthly tidal cycles peaking simultaneously. Boston set its second lowest pressure on record, 28.48 inches. The storm intensified to the north; with Caribou in extreme northern Maine setting it’s lowest ever at 28.26 inches. Maine winds gusted to 60 knots (69 mph) in Rockland and 100 knots (115 mph) at the Southwest Harbor Coast Guard Station. Along with coastal flooding a tidal surge went up the Penobscot River, a 15-minute rise of 12 feet flooding downtown Bangor, Maine.

Canadian coastal areas experienced the greatest damage, especially St. John, New Brunswick. Meanwhile Gary and the Coast Guard crew struggled without commercial power. “I was the executive officer and engineering officer, second in charge.” The third man was Don Savio, “one of the best workers I ever met. To keep the light and radio beacon on we fought our way every 20 minutes or so to check the generator. Seas were breaking over the covered walkway going to lighthouse but we were too busy to be nervous, just excited. You keep thinking about your family, but your responsibility comes first.”

Fishing vessels in harbor sustained great damage. “A lot of them broke loose. We kept functioning at full power during whole storm, light and radio beacon continuously, first before family.” Craig said that carrying the responsibility, the gale was the greatest demand of his career.

“Not until the day after storm did I allow anybody to go out,” said Craig. The road to the lighthouse was washed out. Much seawater entered the cellar, which had drains, “but the furnace was ruined.

Here at Cape Ann the house held and the 1890 brick tower held,” he added. “But the 1947 garage, got it.”

“When we finally could get outside we saw that waves had driven a huge boulder into the rear wall and through to the other side, sitting in the middle of the driveway. Must have been eight or ten feet across.” I asked Gary what you do about a multi-ton boulder in your drive. “After major problems were taken care of a truck with ample chains moved the boulder off to one side.

“Far as I know it’s still there.”

One thing for certain. The groundhog didn’t see his shadow.

This story appeared in the December 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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