In a year that saw the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, a succession of dangerous storms pounded the Merrimack Valley, signaling a reckoning with climate change.
After more than three years, the pandemic was declared over in May by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The months that followed brought sheets of slanting, wind-driven rain, howling gales and flooding to the region.
Time and again, 2023 looked and felt like a storm at sea in the Merrimack Valley.
Tempests transformed roads, lots and yards to rivers, ponds and lakes.
Hurricane force winds snapped and uprooted hundreds of trees some of which crashed onto roofs and pulled down power lines.
Heavy weather precipitated at least in part by global warming came calling.
The new weather patterns in New England come as no surprise to climate researchers like UMass Lowell’s Mathew Barlow.
“For this year, the extremely heavy rainfall events are, unfortunately, exactly what we’d expect in a warming climate,” the climatologist said.
“Warmer air can hold more water in its vapor state, so there’s a greater potential for heavy rain.”
One of the worst storms came on Dec. 18, when winds whistled through bare trees, knocked out power and cancelled school in North Andover.
Rain swelled rivers and streams and plugged storm drains flooding streets, parking lots and driveways.
More than a quarter million customers in Massachusetts, and 50,000 in New Hampshire, lost power.
Wind tore off parts of a roof in Lawrence at a Broadway building with condos and a market.
Four days later, on Dec. 22, the Mighty Merrimack River was carrying spring-like loads of water south into the Valley from New Hampshire waterways.
A Sept. 8 microburst unleashed hurricane force winds and felled hundreds of trees in Andover and North Andover, puncturing roofs and causing massive power outages.
Consistent rain had sopped the soil and loosened tree roots’ anchoring capacity.
Some 50 to 70 structures in North Andover alone were impacted by the Friday storm.
Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said there were 50 reported incidents of trees into houses in town.
Most of Andover was without power into Saturday, Sept. 9 as utility company emergency response teams converged on the area for repairs.
In August, historically hot and dry, the region was inundated on the 8th.
North Andover received seven inches of rain and Lawrence six, most of it within a few hours, causing flash floods.
An entire block in downtown North Andover was swamped as water rushed through the East Mill Complex on Main Street, battering Jaime’s Restaurant and the Good Day Cafe.
The Lawrence Fire Department rescued people from cars and houses.
The storm, and heavy rain 10 days later, caused an estimated $30 million in damage in North Andover.
From late spring to late July the region was a drowned Valley of sorts with persistent heavy rain storms turning the landscape green and cutting into the livelihoods of those who work outside.
Methuen collected the rain jackpot for June 1-July 22, with 15.89 inches or 112% more rain than the 30-year average for June and July, according to weather data.