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Goodnight Irene

Director Joe Thompson reports on how we coped with hurricane Irene:

We’ve never, ever closed MASS MoCA for a weather event, but Irene was spooky and we decided to play it safe.  (During one of last winter’s blizzards we proudly announced online that we would be open, and several people took me to task for requiring employees to trudge to work in the snow…which I confess took me aback.  I felt like I lived on a different planet.  It might have been a mistake to have employees make a long drive, but by and large, we actually like getting the museum open, and our tough-weather visitors are some of our best. They really want to be here, and so we’re really happy to host them).

In some ways, it was not as bad as predicted, but in other ways, I found it worse: the sight of our flood control chutes brimming to the top was frightening, and awesome.  At the crest, the south branch of the Hoosic River was about 2 feet below our bridges, which are typically 24 feet above the waterline.  And the velocity of the water was just incredible. In a few short minutes I saw: 2 basketballs, one beach ball, 2 wooden pallets, 2 car tires, and many, many branches.  I was worried about a full tree, which I was convinced would take out one of our bridges as it passed through the campus at 25-30 mph.  Two remarkable standing waves formed – each about 8’ high – at the bend just to the south of our Building 6 (adjacent to “Joe’s Field” for those of you who were at Solid Sound), and the tops of these standing waves just broached the top of the concrete chute around 2pm Sunday.

MASS MoCA survived in good shape, our art undamaged.  The sight of those flood chutes made me want to kiss the Army Corps engineer who sized them back in 1954.  I confess to harboring thoughts that the chutes were massively over-sized, but in fact, they were just right for Irene.  Two feet less in any dimension, and we’d have had big problems on our hands.

Posted August 29, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Architecture, Berkshires, BLOG, North Adams, Weather
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