January 2 - 1987: Outer Beach breakthrough takes a dozen homes

Nor'easter breaches Chatham-Orleans barrier beach
The photo sequence shows the beach before, after and several years after the breach.

1987: Major breakthrough results in a dozen homes lost to the sea

On this day in 1987, a nor'easter for the ages opened a breach in a barrier spit off Chatham, altering the coastal contours of the Outer Cape for years to come.

As the breach widened over the next two years, dredging became necessary to maintain an open channel for commercial fishermen and Coast Guard vessels.

The storm dumped up to a foot and a half of snow in some areas, packed winds of more than 50 mph and forced residents to evacuate many coastal areas.

The nor'easter also coincided with an astronomical phenomenon that left the coast vulnerable to storm damage. "Meteorologists said part of the reason for yesterday's high waters was syzygy (pronounced SYZ-uh-zee)," read an account in The Boston Globe on Jan. 3, 1987."

"The term describes a celestial lineup of Earth, moon and sun when the sun aligns directly opposite the Earth and sun or between the two bodies. The alignment bulges the tides in some areas of the Earth."

The long-ranging effects of the damaged barrier beach became the subject of a book, "Storm Surge: A Coastal Village Battles the Rising Atlantic," written by Bill Sargent and published in 2004.

Read more about this barrier beach here, and see a slide show here.

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