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Monday, September 21, 2015

The Great Hurricane of 1938

Photo credit: pbs.org
In 1938, predicting the weather was unsophisticated, and not yet a science that had been perfected.  On September 21, 1938, Vermonters were taken by surprise when the deadliest hurricane in New England's history made landfall.  The hurricane, often referred to as the Long Island Express, due to its power and speed similar to that of a locomotive, caused close to 650 deaths, and approximately 1,700 people were injured.  It destroyed or damaged some 57,000 homes and property loss was estimated at around $306 million US dollars (which would be approximately $4.7 billion in today's estimates). This storm, The New England Hurricane of 1938, remains the strongest and worst weather disaster in our history.

The tropical storm began to form off of the coast of Cape Verde, Africa somewhere between September 9 and 10th of 1938, and quickly became a category 5 hurricane.  When it reached Long Island it was a powerful category 3, on September 21st.  Those responsible for predicting its path had felt that the storm would blow out to sea.  Instead, it slammed into Long Island.

Photo credit: nearbeach.com
I found this description when researching this story and feel it really described what it must have felt like, and the surprise that those must have felt being in the "eye of the storm":

"So when the hurricane made landfall on Long Island in the middle of the afternoon on September 21, it caught people enjoying a warm fall day at the beach. They noticed large whitecaps and saw what they thought was a fog bank rolling toward them, but they had no idea a hurricane was about to hit.

The “fog” turned out to be a huge wave of water — the hurricane’s storm surge. Survivors of that initial surprise thought the worst was over when the sky cleared and the sun came out, but about an hour later the storm came back. The calm within the hurricane’s huge eye had merely deceived them and then dealt a second surprise." 

Source: vermontweather.wordpress.com/1970/09/21/hurricane-of-1938/

Having made it's 12 day journey across the Atlantic Ocean, it slammed ashore at Suffolk County, Long Island.  It then moved over the state of Connecticut where the eye was seen in New Haven.  On this day the sea was at astronomical high tide, causing significant coastal damage along Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts shores and communities. Winds were sustained at around 96 mph, and increased to 121 mph.  A peak gust of 186 mph was recorded, near Milton, Massachusetts!  Marinas, home, boats and yacht clubs were destroyed.  Rivers flooded in both states due to the fast accumulating rainfall, which were already at their capacity (up to the tops of river banks since the rain had been falling for days preceding the hurricane).  It devastated more homes, buildings and other property along the way.

The storm did not lose power, as blew into Vermont straight up through the Connecticut River Valley into Montreal.  The recorded speed was 47 miles per hour.

"The hurricane entered Vermont as a Category 1 at approximately 6:00 pm EDT, reaching northern Vermont, Burlington, and Lake Champlain around 8:00 pm. Hurricane-force winds caused extensive damage to trees, buildings, and power lines. Over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of public roads were blocked and it took months for crews to reopen some of the roads. In Montpelier, 120 miles from the nearest coast, salt spray was seen on windows. A train was derailed in Castleton. Despite the damage, the storm killed only five people in Vermont. Maple and sugar groves were damaged. Until Hurricane Irene in 2011 (which had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it struck Vermont), the 1938 hurricane was the only tropical cyclone to make a direct hit on Vermont in its recorded history."

"By 5:00 pm EDT, the eye moved into western Massachusetts, and by 6:00 pm EDT, the hurricane reached Vermont. Both Westfield, Massachusetts and Dorset, Vermont reported calm conditions and partial clearing during passage of the eye, which is a rather unusual occurrence for a New England hurricane. As the hurricane continued into northern Vermont, it began to lose tropical characteristics. Still carrying hurricane-force winds, the storm crossed into Quebec at approximately 10:00 pm EDT, while transitioning into a post-tropical low. The post-tropical remnants dissipated over northern Ontario a few days later."  - wiki

Historically, the month of September is the busiest of the hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sites that from 1851 to 2014, the month of September has produced 566 tropical storms which became hurricanes, August having 375, then followed by October having 335 recorded events.

Photo images found on Google: Images: https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1745&bih=837&q=vintage+women+on+the+beach&oq=vintage+women+on+the+beach&gs_l=img.3...1708.7193.0.7408.