Yesterday at 7:02 a.m. spring began in the Northern Hemisphere. With any luck the change of season will bring an end to the seemingly relentless string of coastal storms that began on Oct. 29, when Hurricane Sandy steamrolled the region.
Sandy was just the biggest and single-most destructive of the 2012-13 assaults. A northeaster followed just over a week later. Then, after a number of ordinary blows, came the February blizzard and a couple more storms, including one on March 6 that echoed the great northeaster of that date in 1962.
This winter’s repeated battering might just be coincidence. However, climate scientists have said that the number and intensity of storms is likely to increase as the climate continues to get warmer. For East End residents, the effects of these storms might well be a sign of things to come.
Walking along the various beaches, as I have a lot this winter, I have been struck by a sense that the end is nigh. East of our place on the southern reach of Gardiner’s Bay, one house now sits on the beach, difficult to get around at high tide thanks to the encroaching water. Another is about to have its foundation exposed in the next storm, or maybe the one after that.
A little farther on, a homeowner has hired a contractor to pile what looks like dirt where his dune used to be. Beyond that is a house with nothing but a double row of oversize sandbags holding it back from the brink. A vacant lot to the east, which the Town of East Hampton bought last year with $1.1 million from the community preservation transfer-tax fund, is not so slowly being eaten away when the northeast wind kicks up.
On the ocean, if things do not change for the better, the White Sands Motel on Napeague looks like it may have one more summer season before its easternmost wing is fatally undermined. Along downtown Montauk, hotel owners might as well be piling sacks of cash on the beach, so fast does the sand they buy and bring in get swept away. Farther east, Ditch Plain looks far from summer-ready, and many of the boulders from a short jetty that once stood strong have been tossed around like playthings.
It is difficult to escape a sense that this is a slow-moving apocalypse. Answers are few, and for now all we can do is walk the beach and wonder what will be.