By Bonnie K. Goodman
Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.
HISTORY NEWS: NEW ENGLAND HURRICANES IN HISTORY
SUFFOLK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | The Main Street fish markets in Greenport after the 1938 hurricane.
HOW MANY HURRICANES IN HISTORY HAVE HIT THE NORTHEAST?
Hurricanes Bob in 1991, Gloria in 1985, and Donna in 1960 reached the Northeast. The 1938 storm called “The Long Island Express” or “The Great Hurricane of 1938” killed hundreds of people in New England.
- Irene conjures memories of ‘great’ storm of 1938: It’s been nearly 73 years since the so-called Great New England Hurricane — one of the most powerful and destructive storms ever to hit southern New England. The storm now bearing down on the Northeast, Irene, has drawn comparisons to the one from way back then which, according to the National Weather Service, killed nearly 600 people and injured 1,700.
About 8,900 houses across southern New England were destroyed. More than 15,000 others were damaged.
It brought its wrath first to New York’s Long Island, then to Milford, Conn. It sped northward at 60 miles an hour. Tides were already higher than normal — as they are now with Irene headed this way.
The Great Hurricane produced tides from New London, Conn., east to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod that were between 18 feet and 25 feet, the weather service says. Communities along the Narragansett Bay were devastated. Storm surges of 12 feet to 15 feet destroyed most of the homes along the coast there. A surge of nearly 20 feet left Providence drowning in water. Years later, the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier would be built to try to shield the capital city from repeat devastation…. – AP, 8-26-11
Photos: The Great Hurricane of 1938 — Fox Tampa Bay
Meteorologists stay course through storm of criticism: WCVB-TV (Ch. 5) chief meteorologist Harvey Leonard recalled the deadly hurricane of 1938 — the worst natural disaster ever to hit New England.
“Six hundred people died. Five-hundred died on the south coast of New England, primarily southern Rhode Island, without knowing what hit them.
You always have to remember, there’s a range of what can happen. We’re not God, but we have great tools to work with. We’re trying our best. You prepare for the worst. You hope for the best.” — Boston Herald, 8-26-11
- Hurricane Irene: Ghosts (technically, video) of hurricanes past: Looking for something hurricane-ish to watch — but perhaps something that doesn’t suggest actual threat to loved ones? How about some video from the legendary Great Hurricane of 1938, aka the Long Island Express, aka The Yankee Clipper?
That storm hit Long Island in September 1938 before making its way into Manhattan and then farther up the coast into Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Quebec.
YouTube’s archives include two interesting compilations of footage from the time. The video above, uploaded by “moviemagg,” simply presents the facts in all their incredible glory — nail-biting images of houses being pushed off their foundations by waves, fishing boats being pounded against the shore, streets submerged by water…. – LAT, 8-26-11
- New England hurricanes have been memorable: One of those, the infamous 1900 Great Galveston Hurricane, is No. 1 by far on the list of the nation’s deadliest hurricanes. With an unthinkable toll of 8,000 deaths, it will almost certainly hold on to first place for a long time. (Florida’s Lake Okeechobee storm of 1928 is a distant second, responsible for 2,500 deaths).
As for Northeast hurricanes, the deadliest and most damaging was the so-called “Long Island Express” – the New England Hurricane of 1938 – a Category 3 storm that took more than 600 lives, including one in Nashua.
The Great Atlantic Hurricane, a similar storm that hit New England in 1944, is lesser known, probably because lessons learned in 1938 led to much more warning and well-executed evacuations. More than 300 lives were lost, but most were at sea; just 46 deaths were recorded on land…. – Nashua Telegraph, 8-27-11
- It was 1938, and few believed the fishermens’ warnings: Few believed the local fishermen who warned such yellow and red skies meant a major storm was on the way.
There were no National Weather Service advisories or evacuation plans. It made landfall with little warning and with sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour, strong enough to be classified as a Category III storm today.
The storm killed more than 600 people, injured more than 700 others and caused $308 million in property damage (an estimated $6 billion today), destroying and damaging thousands of homes.
It will 73 years ago next month when the epic hurricane that would later come to be known as the New England Hurricane of 1938 — aka the Long Island Express because of its unusual speed — blew through eastern Long Island and New England, leaving death and devastation in its wake.
Like some are predicting for Hurricane Irene, the massive eye of the storm — 50 miles wide — passed right over Long Island…. – Suffolk Times, 8-26-11
“The ’38 hurricane was the fastest hurricane ever measured.” — Dave Samuel, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania
- Irene Evokes Great Hurricane of 1938 That Left 500 Dead in U.S. Northeast: The projected path of Hurricane Irene evokes a 1938 storm that left more than 500 dead after crossing Long Island, destroying the village of Montauk and battering Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was one of the most destructive and powerful ever to strike the region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It made landfall in Milford, Connecticut, about 75 miles north of New York City, on Sept. 21, producing peak gusts of 186 miles per hour and tides as high as 25 feet on Cape Cod, the federal agency said on its website.
Hurricane Irene, the strongest Atlantic storm to threaten the U.S. since 2005, is forecast to pass near North Carolina this weekend and slam into New England next week. Hurricane watches are in force for the North Carolina coast as 115 miles- per-hour (185 kilometers per hour) winds rip through the Bahamas, damaging homes, felling trees and triggering flooding, according to the country’s Emergency Management Agency…. – Bloomberg, 8-25-11
“It was something devastating—and unreal—like the beginning of the world—or the end of it—and I slogged or sloshed, crawled through ditches and hung on to keep going somehow—got drenched and bruised and scratched— completely bedraggled—finally got to where there was a working phone and called Dad. The minute he heard my voice he said, ‘how’s your mother?’—And I said—I mean I shouted—the storm was screaming so—’She’s all right. All right, Dad! But listen, the house—it’s gone—blown away into the sea!’ And he said, ‘I don’t suppose you had the brains enough to through a match into it before it went, did you? It’s insured against fire, but not against blowing away!—and how are you?'” — Katharine Hepburn on beach house in Old Saybrook, Connecticut
- The Great New England Hurricane of 1938: A storm formed in the eastern Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands on September 4, 1938, and headed west. After 12 days, before it could reach the Bahamas, it turned northward, skimming the East Coast of the United States and picking up energy from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. On September 21, it crashed into Long Island and continued its way north at a speed of 60 miles per hour, with the eye of the storm passing over New Haven, Connecticut. It didn’t dissipate until it reached Canada.
The winds were strong enough that modern scientists place the storm in Category 3 of the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The Blue Hill Observatory outside Boston measured sustained winds of 121 miles per hour and gusts as strong as 186 miles per hour. The winds blew down power lines, trees and crops and blew roofs off houses. Some downed power lines set off fires in Connecticut.
But it was the storm surge that caused the most damage. The storm came ashore at the time of the high tide, which added to the surge of water being pushed ahead by the hurricane. The water rose 14 to 18 feet along much of the Connecticut coast, and 18 to 25 feet from New London, Connecticut to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Seaside homes all along Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island were submerged under 12 to 15 feet of water, and Providence, Rhode Island was inundated with 20 feet. Whole communities were swept out to sea…. – Smithsonian Blog, 8-25-11
- The Great Hurricane of 1938: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the hurricane began near Africa during the second week of September in 1938, travelled across the Atlantic Ocean and up the east coast, made land fall in Long Island, New York, on Sept. 21. It terminated in southern Canada a day later.
The hurricane moved at a brisk 60 to 70 mph, allowing it to travel from North Carolina to Long Island within an afternoon. Upon reaching landfall in New York, wind speeds were recorded at 121 mph and the water level rose a reported 10 to 12 feet. The Boston Weather Service Forecast Office reports that the Connecticut River reached a depth of 35.4 feet – 19.4 feet above its flood stage.
The storm is said to have killed 564 people, according to NOAA. It injured more than 1,700, and caused $308 million in damage to the New England area – about $4.6 billion in 2009 dollars.
Unconfirmed reports about the hurricane describe 20 foot storm surges, 190 mph gusts of wind, and six inches of rain falling in some parts of Massachusetts.
Damage to houses and marinas was extensive. In all, about 8,900 homes were destroyed and 2,600 boats were sunk…. – Patch, 8-26-11
- EARTH MATTERS: Robert Miller Dr. Mel says Irene may be our hurricane: It was 1954. Carol, one of the most destructive hurricanes to hit New England, damaged more than 10,000 buildings.
It caused $50 million in property losses in Connecticut and $3 million in crop damage; New Haven, Middlesex and New London counties were declared disaster areas.
After the famed — or infamous — Hurricane of 1938, Carol might have been the single worst hurricane to hit New England. A year later, the one-two punch of Connie and Diane caused the Flood of 1955. The giant, water-laden tropical storms hit the state five days apart and caused the worst natural disaster in Connecticut history…. – Danbury News Times
Photos from the Hurricane of 1938 gallery (24 photos) — MassLive
- Survivors of Great New England Hurricane of 1938 share memories: Now as people have eyes to Doppler radar or ears to weather radio waiting for the arrival of Irene, they remembered the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 – a storm that Irene has been compared to by some…. – MassLive.com, 8-26-11
- Hype or Hurricane?: Seventy-three years ago the Great Hurricane of 1938 (GH38) ripped through New England killing 700 people in four hours. The East Coast is now bracing for a storm that may be of equal magnitude. Yet newscasters keep talking about how “unprecedented” Hurricane Irene is… Huffington Post, 8-26-11
- Cary Mock: Irene may be big, if not fiercest Northeast storm: Hurricane Irene’s sheer size will create a huge impact, even if it falls short of being an epic Northeast coast storm for the history books, a geographer and hurricane historian said on Friday.
“It’s probably not going to be one of those where it’s the worst of the century,” Cary Mock, an associate geography professor at the University of South Carolina.
“The storm surge is dependent not just on the winds but on the size.”
“In New York and New England, just looking at the last 50 or 100 years is actually too small of a snapshot for a worst case scenario for hurricanes,” Mock said.
“They actually called them gales,” he said, “or sometimes September gales because they noticed they happened in September.”
In 1821, a major hurricane passed directly over New York City, “probably a strong category 4,” Mock said. Historical records show it caused a 10-foot storm surge at low tide, Mock said. “At that time, not that many people were living in New York, so people didn’t pay a lot of attention to it.”
But William Redfield, the “father of hurricane science,” observed the 1821 storm, Mock said.
Just as a debate goes on today over whether global warming causes more frequent or more intense hurricanes, the mid-19th century debate was over “the law of storms,” Mock said…. – Reuters, 8-26-11
- 1635 – The Great Colonial Hurricane struck Narragansett Bay on Aug. 25 as a possible Category 4 or 5. Details are sketchy, but the death toll is estimated near 50.
- 1683 – A unnamed tropical cyclone hit Connecticut and caused tremendous flooding on Aug. 23.
- 1693 – Another tropical cyclone struck New England in late October, causing flooding so great that new permanent inlets were created.
- 1769 – A hurricane that earlier caused great damage in Annapolis, Md., blew boats ashore in Boston, Providence, R.I., and Newport, R.I., on Sept. 8. Many houses were blown down and destroyed.
- 1778 – A late-season hurricane struck Cape Cod on Nov. 1, killing 50-70 people, 23 of them aboard the HMS Somerset III, a British ship that ran aground on the cape.
- 1782 – A rare “snow hurricane” battered New England on Oct. 18-19. It caused widespread damage, but unknown deaths.
- 1804 – Another, more severe snow hurricane on Oct. 9 dumped 2-3 feet of snow across the Northeast; causing nine deaths across New England.
- 1815 – The Great September Gale of 1815 struck New England as a major hurricane on Sept. 23-24. A huge storm surge funneled up Narragansett Bay, destroying some 500 houses and 35 ships and inundating Providence. At least 38 deaths were reported across New England.
- 1841 – The October Gale of 1841 dumped several feet of snow and sleet, wrecked the Georges Bank fishing fleet, drowned 81 fishermen, knocked down trees and destroyed homes, boats and the Cape Cod saltworks factory.
- 1904 – A September Category 1 storm brought significant marine destruction and heavy losses across Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod and the islands.
- 1924 – A powerful Category 2-3 storm lashed the Massachusetts south coast, Cape Cod and the islands, and then New Hampshire and Maine. It’s considered in many places worse than the 1938 hurricane.
- 1927 – Torrential rains from a tropical storm caused record flooding across New England. Nearly 100 were killed, mostly in Vermont.
- 1936 – Heavy wind damage across most of the region was caused by a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 18.
- 1938 – The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 struck as a strong Category 3 on Sept. 21. Wind gusts reached Category 5 strength in some areas. The anemometer at the Blue Hill Observatory registered a peak wind gust of 186 mph before the instrument broke. Significant damage was caused in the Nashua area, and one death was recorded. It killed more than 600 people overall. It’s considered worst New England storm of the modern era.
- 1944 – The Great Atlantic Hurricane landed as a Category 3 in southern New England on Sept. 15. There was severe wind damage in many areas, especially southeastern Massachusetts. The death toll was roughly 300; Archibald Dunlap was Nashua’s only fatality.
- 1950 – A major, intense, offshore hurricane labeled Hurricane Dog battered New England, especially southeastern Massachusetts. It was the largest of all Atlantic hurricanes to date, with sustained winds of 75 mph and gusts to 100 for extended periods. The death toll is unknown.
- 1954 – Hurricane Carol struck all of New England on Aug. 31 as a Category 3 with Category 4 conditions along the southern coast. It caused widespread, extreme damage. Sixty were killed; no deaths were reported in Nashua.
- 1954 – Hurricane Edna hit the region two weeks after Carol, and also was a Category 3 upon landfall. Severe losses were recorded in Cape Cod and the islands and along coastal Maine. It wasn’t as damaging as Carol in the Nashua area.
- 1960 – Hurricane Donna became the fifth major storm to hit New England in 22 years. It struck Sept. 12-13 as a Category 2-3 storm. High gusts were recorded across the region, with the worst damage in southern New England. The Nashua region suffered moderate damage.
- 1962 – Hurricane Daisy produced hurricane conditions in coastal areas and well into Maine in October; Mount Desert Island was affected significantly.
- 1963 – Hurricane Ginny followed almost the same path as Daisy.
- 1979 – Hurricane David, originally a Category 5 in the Bahamas, was a strong tropical storm when it reached New England in September. It spawned several tornadoes; some damage, but no deaths were reported in the Nashua region.
- 1985 – Hurricane Gloria became the first significant hurricane to hit inland New England since 1960. Widespread wind damage was caused in the entire region, especially the coast. Winds gusted over 100 mph in many areas. No local deaths were reported.
- 1991 – Hurricane Bob landed as a Category 2 in New England with wind gusts well into Category 3, one of the smallest yet most intense hurricanes to hit New England since 1938. It caused widespread damage and frequent destruction, especially in coastal areas. There was significant flooding, including tidal surges. No severe damage or deaths were reported in the Nashua area.
- 1991 – Hurricane Grace became the subject of the movie “The Perfect Storm” when she was labeled such by meteorologists after combining in late October with an offshore mid-latitude cyclone.
- 1996 – Hurricane Edouard brought offshore hurricane-force wind gusts from Buzzards Bay east across the Cape and islands. Considerable losses were incurred on the Massachusetts islands; Oak Bluffs and Martha’s Vineyard were particularly hard-hit.
- 1999 – Tropical Storm Floyd caused large power outages and flood damage across the region. Flooding, mudslides, and downed trees and power lines closed several major highways and countless local roads for days.
- 2010 – Hurricane Earl largely fizzled in early September; it passed about 90 miles offshore, bringing only heavy rain, large waves and tropical-storm-force gusts to Cape Cod.
- 2011 – Hurricane Irene?… – – Nashua Telegraph, 8-27-11