As Henri Approached, Memories of Hurricane Bob Came Rushing Back

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U.S.|As Henri approached, memories of Hurricane Bob came rushing back.

Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives spoke with residents of Mattapoisett, Mass., after Hurricane Bob caused widespread damage there in August 1991.
Credit...Stephen Rose/Associated Press
  • Aug. 22, 2021Updated 4:13 p.m. ET

Thirty years ago this week, M.L. Baron stocked his van with provisions — deviled ham and two 30-packs of Coors Light — fired up his shoe-box-size cellphone, parked beside the New Bedford, Mass., waterfront and waited for Hurricane Bob.

Mr. Baron, who was broadcasting that day on an AM radio station, went out before dawn so his bosses couldn’t tell him to stay home. As the winds picked up, the tourists and thrill-seekers thinned out and then disappeared entirely, he recalled.

“The next thing I know, I’m looking out, I go, ‘Jesus, I’m all alone.’ I’m saying to myself, how bad is this going to get?” said Mr. Baron, who operates a weather station in Fairhaven, Mass. “I say, ‘Well, I made my choice when I got up at 3 in the morning.’”

Peering through the windshield, he could see road signs flopping back and forth, making an unearthly twanging sound; the van began to shake as if there were a crowd around it, trying to tip it over. The wind grew so loud, Mr. Baron said, that he could no longer hear the sounds of crashing debris, and the scene outside was blotted out by bands of rain.

“It’s almost like a paradox; all you can hear is the wind,” he said. “You might as well be in a cocoon.”

Hurricane Bob, in 1991, remains the last hurricane to make landfall in New England. Memories of it rushed back on Sunday, as Henri approached the region as a hurricane before being downgraded to a tropical storm.

Bob caused $680 million in damage, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of households, caused the deaths of more than a dozen people, and altered the coastline of Cape Cod.

Cleanup was a weekslong process. Boats that washed as far as a mile inland had to be hoisted up with helicopters and ferried back and splashed into to the water. There was a strange, sweet smell of splintered trees and foliage baking in the sun. Hordes of yellow jackets and hornets had been driven from their nests. They circulated, angry and stinging.

The winds had ripped apart houses in Mattapoisett, a town on Buzzards Bay, and Mr. Baron remembers coming across people’s possessions scattered in unlikely places as he drove around after the storm. “I had a carved teddy bear the size of a refrigerator in the middle of Causeway Road, bureaus, an actual toilet,” he said.

Among those recalling Bob was Jeff Tiedemann, who was born on the day it tore its way up the coast. His mother likes to describe the winds rattling the car windows as her husband drove her to the hospital as she was in the early stages of labor.

Mr. Tiedemann had planned to celebrate his 30th birthday in a house on Cape Cod with 14 friends, but scaled back his plans when he learned about Tropical Storm Henri. He will instead stay at home in his two-bedroom apartment in Wallingford, Connecticut, with his roommate. He expects to dine by candlelight.

“It feels kind of surreal,” he said. “I usually don’t even check the weather. But these storms seem to have their eye on me.”

Mr. Baron, who is now semiretired, said he would monitor Henri from his home on West Island, near New Bedford, from a room that he has fitted with so much equipment that he calls it the “crystal palace.” There will be no beer. (“I grew up a long time ago,” he said.)

But he was looking forward to that stretch of hours or days when everyone’s attention was trained on one thing: the immense power of nature.

“You’d be surprised what you forget when there’s a hurricane overhead,” he said.

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