Officials remain focused on hurricane season

Sep 20, 2017

The South Coast dodged a bullet as Hurricane Jose turned east and out to sea this week and does not appear to be in the path of the following Maria. But Dartmouth officials say they are ready to spring into action if following storms should threaten as this active hurricane season continues.

When initial forecasts showed Jose on a path to visit Dartmouth, Harbormaster Steve Melo worked to secure his department’s property from the storm and recommended that local boaters do the same.

His message to inquiring boat owners: Take boats out of the water now or, at the very least, remove even furled sails from masts and stow any other items that could be damaged.

With boating season nearing its end, Melo said he’d rather end the season a week or two early than deal with damage -- or picking up the pieces of a destroyed boat.

As he watches forecasts showing new storms moving across the Atlantic, he said he’s already looking forward to the end of hurricane season.

“I’ve never looked forward to winter as much as I do now,” Melo said.

Atlantic hurricane season extends through November. While temperatures in the Northeast are generally low enough in November to discourage a Thanksgiving hurricane, the relatively warmer ocean temperatures as summer ends make September a dangerous time for hurricanes in New England.

The last major hurricane to take direct aim at Dartmouth was Hurricane Bob in late August 1991. Bob, only a Category 1 storm when it hit, caused $1 billion in damage in the United States, led to widespread power outages, and is blamed for at least one death in Massachusetts.

Melo still remembers seeing hundreds of boats covering the Padanaram Causeway and locations even further inland in Dartmouth in the aftermath of Hurricane Bob.

“Hurricane Bob put Dartmouth on the map, and not in a good way,” Melo said.

On land, preparations for a potential hurricane involve coordination among police, the Department of Public Works and the Dartmouth Emergency Management Agency, explained Town Administrator David Cressman.

As part of preparedness plans, staffing would be increased at the police department as a storm neared, especially in the dispatch center.

The DPW would reallocate personnel and equipment throughout town. For example, Cressman said front-end loaders might be stationed in the north end of town, as the department’s operations center is located on Russells Mills Road.

The town owns trailers that can be deployed to use as emergency shelters, which are usually stationed at the Council on Aging building. If the situation warrants it, school buildings can also be used as shelters, Cressman explained.