The Winter Beach

January 2003

The 2002-2003 winter season began with a severe Northeaster in November. Since then, there have been at least two more Northeasters, with the latest one on January 4. The result has been extensive erosion all along the outer bank, including Nauset Light beach.

Many of our visitors are familiar with the summer beach, but most have never seen the ocean during a severe storm. The photos show how powerful and dangerous the ocean becomes when the height of the storm strikes at high tide. The waves pound against the bottom of the cliff and gouge out large amounts of sand that is carried out to sea. The sand above the gouged area becomes unstable and falls down the cliff to the beach.

Although the top of the bank is severely undercut, it generally has grass, shrubs or trees growing on it, so several days or weeks may pass before it, too, breaks off and falls onto the beach. Eventually, the sand smoothes itself out and the bank looks like it did before. The only difference is that the cliff can be as little as a few feet or as much as twenty feet inland from where it was before the storm.

The photos were taken at high tide on January 4, 2003. One photo shows the waves climbing up the cliff, and the other, the undercut bank. The red and white stake is where Nauset Light stood before the lighthouse was moved in 1996. When installed, the stake was 30-35 feet from the edge of the cliff and now it is only 3-4 feet away. Had the lighthouse not been moved, it would have long ago been removed from the site. Thanks to the generosity of all our many friends and supporters, Nauset Light is safe and remains an important part of Eastham's maritime history.