Anniversary of Cape tornadoes: Why did they happen and are we prepared to handle natural disasters?

Saturday marks the third anniversary of an unusual weather event on Cape Cod. On July 23, 2019, powerful tornadoes rolled across the Cape causing extensive damage.

“We packed the kids in the shower and literally I was laying on top of my two-year-old son,” recalled Susan Copanos of Natick who was in Yarmouth on vacation when the tornado hit. ‘I just felt the whole house shaking. . . I just thought we were going to die.”

Just before noon on that summer day, waterspouts formed during a supercell thunderstorm. They first made landfall in the Kalmus section of Hyannis and then barreled into Yarmouth.

Within about ten minutes, the EF-1 tornado was over, wreaking havoc in areas like the neighborhoods that lie south of the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School.

Along places like Vine Brook Road in Yarmouth, winds exceeded 100 mph, uprooting large trees and ripping shingles off houses.

“You hear the motel roof blew off, and it’s like you’re thinking about dead people and carnage,” said Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson as he recalled iconic images of the roof peeling off The Cape Sands Inn on Rt. 28.

“We had over 2,000 calls in 16 minutes,” added the Chief. “But then to see some of the other damager that we were worried about, downed power lines, roads closed. . .there were some people stuck in cars because trees were down between them or on their cars.”

By some miracle the storm didn’t kill or seriously injure anyone.

In addition to the tornado that went thru Hyannis and Yarmouth, another twister touched down in Harwich.

Straight line wind damage was also recorded in Dennis and Chatham.

Evidence of the storm’s fury is still easy to see as many yards are filled with stumps or truncated trees.

Chief Frederickson feels they were a bit lucky three years ago and worries about what another bout of extreme weather could mean for the Cape.

“One thing I know, after experiencing not only tornadoes and those small hurricanes and tremendous n’easters, is that if we get hit with a real hurricane, a devastating tornado, we do not have the ability to provide all the housing that would be needed, restoring power. We are the last frontier, you know. We’re over the bridge.”

Seven tornadoes have now been recorded on Cape Cod since records have been kept, starting with one in Marston Mills in 1968.

In the last few decades, climate change is making conditions more favorable for tornadoes to develop on Cape Cod, but that’s only one factor.

Today’s technology is much better at detecting these rotations we now know about storms that might have gong undetected years ago.

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