Never-ending winter: Cape Cod freezes over as icebergs wash ashore

A boat sits in a snow and ice covered salt marsh in Gloucester, Massachusetts February 20, 2015. (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
It’s on pace to be a record-setting winter in Massachusetts, as Boston and its surrounds have seemingly been buried since Labor Day. Now, to add insult to injury, “human-sized” icebergs are landing on the scenic shores of Cape Cod.

Massive hunks of ice floating in Massachusetts Bay arrived on the beaches of Wellfleet over the weekend, in what WBX meteorologist Eric Fisher said may be a “once-in-a-generation” event.

Marianne McCaffery, an administrator at the Cape Cod National Seashore, told the Boston Globe that large snow chunks often float in during the winter, but this year they are more extreme. She’s seen many of them on the bay side of Cape Cod during drives through Wellfleet.

“They are bigger this year because there has been no snow melt in between storms,” said McCaffery. “I’m not surprised, considering the type of winter we have had.”

The boulders form in open water, and often occur on what Wellfleet assistant harbormaster Leonard Croteau called “inside beaches.”

“They are all over the place,” he told the Globe. “This year has been a lot more than normal, but usually we don’t have snow this long either. It’s been here for a while.”

It’s not the first freaky meeting of weather and ocean this winter for Massachusetts. In February, “slurpee waves” crested onto the island of Nantucket.

Ice can form along a seashore in two ways, biological oceanographer Carin Ashjian, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told Smithsonian Magazine. Saltwater freezes at 28.8 °F (-1.4 °C), and when the air is colder than that, breaking waves can deposit layer upon thin layer of ice onto the ground, which add up to form a solid rind.

Seawater in winter is generally a degree or two above freezing, but when the air is breathtakingly cold for a period of time, the topmost layer of water several yards thick can approach the freezing point, Ashjian said. When the surface skin of that layer loses heat to the sub-freezing air, there's no heat to be gained from the water below it, and the surface freezes. For a time, the wave action of the sea prevents individual chunks larger than kernels of corn from forming, although ice of that consistency is on its way to freezing solid.

Beantown is a mere two inches away from shattering its snowfall record for a single winter, standing at 105.7 inches. The city’s snowiest winter was 1995-1996, when a whopping 107.9 inches entombed the Massachusetts capital.

And statistics say winter isn’t over yet.

"In more than 50 percent of winters, Boston, New York and Philadelphia saw a last snowfall after March 9," FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten wrote on Tuesday. "In fact, 25 percent of the time in all three cities, it occurred at the end of March or even later."

The frigid temperatures that have hovered over eastern Massachusetts haven’t helped matters. With snow refusing to melt, Boston has had to be creative with removing it. Along with the man who created a company that ships snow from his yard all across the US for just $19.99 a bottle, the Boston Red Sox baseball team partnered with two local companies to donate tickets to people who volunteered to shovel out fire hydrants. The city also employed prison labor to shovel snow, the Globe reported.

Post by CapeCodWeather.Net.

Residents have gotten a bit stir crazy, as well. At a press conference, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh had to remind residents that jumping out of windows into snow drifts is not a wise choice.

“It's a foolish thing to do and you could kill yourself,” Walsh told residents.

As March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so will the temperatures. The Arctic conditions are slowly lifting, allowing ice to begin melting across New England.

The giant ice boulders in Wellfleet are already shrinking.

“Give us a week of warm weather and they will be gone,” Croteau said.