New England Hurricane of 1938

New England Hurricane of 1938

Infobox Hurricane
Name=New England Hurricane
Image location=1938 Hurricane Storm Surge.jpg

Formed=September 10, 1938
Dissipated=September 22, 1938
1-min winds=140

Fatalities=682 direct
Areas=Bahamas, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, southern Quebec
Hurricane season=1938 Atlantic hurricane season

The New England Hurricane of 1938 (or Great New England Hurricane or Long Island Express or simply The Great Hurricane of 1938) was the first major hurricane to strike New England since 1869. The storm formed near the coast of Africa in September of the 1938 Atlantic hurricane season, becoming a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale before making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane [ [ The Great Hurricane of 1938 - The Long Island Express] ] on Long Island on September 21. The hurricane killed over 682 people, [cite news | first=R. A. | last=Scotti | coauthors= | title=Sudden Sea - The Great Hurricane of 1938 | date= | publisher=Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 2003 | url = | work = | pages = | accessdate = 2007-11-30 | language = ] damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at $4.7 billion (2005 US dollars). [ cite web|url= |title=The Great Hurrican of 1938 |accessdate=2007-11-30 |work=The Boston Globe | ] In 1951 damaged trees and buildings were still to be seen in the affected areas. [Lane, F.W. "The Elements Rage" (David & Charles 1966, ISBN ), p.16]

Meteorological history

The storm formed as a Cape Verde-type hurricane in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. It reached Category 5 status east of the Bahamas around September 20 before turning northward.

This storm was extremely unusual in that its forward speed approached 70 mph (110 km/h). The unusual rapid movement allowed the hurricane to travel far to the north before it had a chance to weaken over cooler waters [NOAA website: [ THE GREAT NEW ENGLAND HURRICANE of 1938] ] and earned it the nickname "Long Island Express."

The hurricane was forecast by the U.S. National Weather Service to curve out into the Atlantic Ocean but instead continued almost due north. It made landfall in Suffolk County on Long Island, New York on September 21, 1938 as a strong Category 3 hurricane on the present-day Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale with a central pressure of 946 mbar (hPa). [ [ The Most Intense Hurricanes in the United States 1851-2004] ] It then traveled across Long Island Sound into Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and finally into Canada while still moving at an unusually high speed. [PBS [ The Hurricane of '38] ]

The hurricane hit Long Island around 3:30 p.m., which was just a few hours before astronomical high tide. At this time the eye was about convert|50|mi|km|0 across and the hurricane was about convert|500|mi|km|-1 wide. [ [ The Long Island Express: The Great Hurricane of 1938] ]


The majority of the storm damage was from storm surge and wind damage. Damage is estimated at $6 billion (2004 USD), [ [ Costliest U.S. Hurricanes 1900-2004 (adjusted)] ] making it among the most costly hurricanes to strike the U.S. mainland. It is estimated that if an identical hurricane struck today it would cause $39.2 billion (2005 USD) in damage. [ [ Ranked Using 2005 Inflation, Population, and Wealth Normalization] ]

Approximately 600 people died in the storm in New England, most in Rhode Island, and up to 100 people elsewhere in the path of the storm. [ [ The Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, 1492-1996] ] An additional 708 people were reported injured. [ [ Damage Caused by Storm] ]

In total, 4,500 cottages, farms, and other homes were reported destroyed. An additional 25,000 homes were damaged. Other damages included 26,000 automobiles destroyed, and 20,000 electrical poles toppled. The hurricane also devastated the forests of New England, knocking down an estimated 200,000 treesFact|date=January 2008. Freshwater flooding was minimal, however, as the quick passage of the storm decreased local rainfall totals, with only a few small areas receiving over 10 inches (250 mm) of rain.

New York

On Long Island, the storm obliterated the Dune Road area of Westhampton Beach, resulting in 29 deaths. A cinema at Westhampton was also lifted out to sea: around 20 people at a matinee, and the theater — projectionist and all — landed two miles (3 km) into the Atlantic and drowned. [Alistair Cooke, 'Hurricanes,' 23 September 1988, "Letter from America" (Penguin: London, 2004)] There were 21 other deaths through the rest of the east end of Long Island. The storm surge temporarily turned Montauk into an island as it flooded across the South Fork at Napeague and obliterated the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road.

The surge rearranged the sand at the Cedar Point Lighthouse so that the island became connected to what is now Cedar Point County Park. The surging water created the present-day Shinnecock Inlet by carving out a large section of barrier island separating Shinnecock Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The storm toppled the landmark steeple of the tallest building in Sag Harbor (the Whalers Church). The steeple has not been rebuilt. Wading River suffered substantial damage.

In Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island, the storm blew down the movie theatre located on Front Street.

Rhode Island

The storm surge hit Westerly, Rhode Island at 3:50 p.m. EDT, resulting in 100 deaths there alone. [ 1938 Hurricane - September 21, 1938] ]

The tide was even higher than usual because of the Autumnal Equinox and full moon. The hurricane produced storm tides of 14 to convert|18|ft|m|0 across most of the Long Island and Connecticut coast, with 18 to convert|25|ft|m|0|sing=on tides from New London east to Cape Cod. The storm surge was especially violent along the Rhode Island shore, sweeping hundreds of summer cottages out to sea. As the surge drove northward through Narragansett Bay, it was restricted by the Bay's funnel shape, and rose to a level of nearly 16 feet (15.8) feet above normal spring tides, resulting in more than convert|13|ft|m of water in some areas of Downtown Providence. Several motorists were drowned in their autos. [ Weather History of the '38 Hurricane] ]

Many homes and structures along the coast were destroyed as well as many structures inland along the hurricane's path. Entire beach communities on the coast of Rhode Island were obliterated. Napatree Point, a small cape which housed nearly forty families located between the Atlantic Ocean and Little Narragansett Bay just off of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, was completely swept away. Today, Napatree is wildlife refuge with no human inhabitants. The only structures lying directly on the coast that survived the storm were the immense stone mansions in Newport, mostly because the largest mansions were located along the Cliff Walk, high above the waves, though several, including The Breakers and Carey Mansion (known at that time as Seaview Terrace) still bear scars from the high winds of the storm.

One of the more tragic stories related to the storm was that of the seven children who died after driver Norman Caswell abandoned their school bus while trying to cross a narrow causeway known as Mackerel Cove in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Halfway through the cove, the bus stalled; the children evacuated and formed a human chain, believing they would be safer. The chain broke and the children were washed away, later to be found at various locations along Narragansett Bay.The only survivors were Caswell and Clayton Chellis (whose sister perished and brother chose to ride home with friends instead, saving his life). Caswell was blamed by many in the town for the children's deaths, and never drove the bus again. Fact|date=November 2007

A few miles from Conanicus Island, keeper Walter Eberly lost his life when Whale Rock lighthouse was swept off its base and into the raging waves- his body was never found.


Eastern Connecticut was in the eastern side of the hurricane. Long Island acted as a buffer against large ocean surges, but the waters of Long Island Sound rose to unimaginable heights. Small shoreline towns to the east of New Haven had nearly complete destruction from the water and winds. To this day, the 1938 hurricane holds the record for the worst natural disaster in Connecticut's 350-year history.

In the beach towns of Clinton, Westbrook, and Old Saybrook, buildings were found as wreckage across coastal roads. Actress Katharine Hepburn waded to safety from her Old Saybrook beach home narrowly escaping death. She stated in her 1991 book that 95% of her personal belongings were either lost or destroyed, including her 1932 Oscar which was later found intact.Fact|date=June 2008 In Old Lyme, beach cottages were flattened or swept away. Along the Stonington shorefront, buildings were swept off their foundations and found two miles (3 km) inland. Rescuers later searching for survivors in the homes in Mystic found live fish and crabs in kitchen drawers and cabinets.

New London was first swept by the winds and storm surge; then the waterfront business district caught fire and burned out of control for 10 hours. Stately homes along Ocean Beach were leveled by the storm surge. The permanently anchored 240-ton lightship at the head of New London Harbor was found on a sand bar two miles (3 km) away.

Interior sections of the state experienced widespread flooding as the hurricane's torrential rains fell on soil already saturated from previous storms. The Connecticut River was forced out of its banks, inundating cities and towns from Hartford, to Middletown.

The eye of the storm followed the Connecticut River north into Massachusetts, where the winds and flooding killed 99 people. In Springfield, the river rose to 6 to convert|10|ft|m|0 above flood stage, causing significant damage. Up to six inches (152 mm) of rain fell across Western MA, which combined with over four inches (102 mm) that had fallen a few days earlier produced widespread flooding. Residents of Ware were stranded for days, and relied on air-dropped food and medicine. After the flood receded, the town's Main Street was left a chasm in which sewer pipes could be seen.

To the east, the surge left Falmouth and New Bedford under eight feet of water. Two-thirds of all the boats in New Bedford harbor sank. The Blue Hills Observatory registered sustained winds of 121 mph (195 km/h) and a peak gust of 186 mph (299 km/h).

The New Haven Railroad from New Haven to Providence was particularly hard hit, as countless bridges along the Shore Line were destroyed or flooded, severing rail connections to badly affected cities (such as Westerly) in the process.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, there was less damage than in other states. Only one inch (25 mm) of rain fell in Concord.Fact|date=November 2007 But Peterborough was worse; total damage there was stated to be $500,000 (1938 USD, $6.5 million 2005 USD) and swept away 10 bridges. In all of New Hampshire, 13 people met their deaths.

ee also

* List of New England hurricanes
* List of Atlantic hurricanes
* List of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes
* List of wettest tropical cyclones in Massachusetts

External links

* [ An episode of the PBS documentary series "American Experience" originally aired in 2001 was dedicated to this hurricane] .
* [ State University of New York: Suffolk County Community College - History of Storm]
* [ Damage from the hurricane]

* Storm Tides in 12 Tropical Cyclones (Including Four Intense New England Hurricanes) written by Brian R. Jarvinen of the National Hurricane Center, NOAA


*cite book |title=A Wind To Shake The World |last=Allen |first=Everett S. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1976 |publisher=Little & Brown |location=Boston |isbn=0316034266 |pages=
*cite book |title=The Great Hurricane: 1938 |last=Burns |first=Cherie |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2005 |publisher=Atlantic Monthly Press |location=New York |isbn=087113893X |pages=
*cite book |title=Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 |last=Scott |first=R. A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2003 |publisher=Little & Brown |location=Boston |isbn=0316739111 |pages=


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