A Day at the Beach

March 04, 2004

Wellfleet1

Provided by: Mark Mello, Director of Research at the Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies
Summary authors & editors: Mark Mello; Michael Rogovsky; Teresa Rogovsky

The above photo was taken in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on February 16, 2004. As our mild December morphed into the coldest January in Massachusetts since 1893, seawater in shallow estuaries from Wellfleet to Eastham began to freeze. Ten-foot tides broke up the ice and moved it into Cape Cod Bay, then the estuaries re-froze, and the process repeated itself.

February temperatures continued to drop and the ice floes increased in number and thickness (up to eight feet thick or 2.4 m) in the Bay. The large ice packs floated on the currents. On the heels of a southwest wind, the ice moved north towards Truro and Provincetown, and on February 15th the Bay was ice as far as the eye could see from Truro. That night, the wind shifted to the northwest, and the next day, the ice floated back to the southern half of the Bay from Wellfleet (site of this photo) to Eastham, where the ice now stretched to the north. Ice packs traveled 15 miles (24 km) overnight.

Wind and tides piled some ice chunks onto the beach. Tides make it virtually impossible for the ice mass to freeze solid, although thrill seekers were able to hop from ice floe to ice floe. We had not seen ice packs in Cape Cod Bay since 1977.

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