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New England Hurricane Climatology

Hurricanes and tropical storms are no strangers to southern New England. The earliest colonial records in the region note several extremely intense hurricanes which caused considerable destruction. Forty-nine such storms have affected the region since 1900, either making landfall along the coast or passing close enough over the offshore waters to spread tropical storm or hurricane force conditions into the area. The intensities of these systems have ranged from weak, disorganized tropical storms, to full-fledged major hurricanes. The one feature common to almost all of these storms was a rapid acceleration toward Southern New England, which greatly reduced the time to prepare and evacuate.

Tropical cyclones that have affected Southern New England have brought a variety of weather conditions. Some of the weaker storms have passed with hardly a whimper, producing only some occasional heavy showers and periods of gusty winds. Some systems have brought torrential rains and inland flooding, while still others have brought a combination of fierce winds and widespread tree and structural damage. Some have also brought devastating storm surges that crashed onto the coast, severely crippling coastal communities.

The following information was taken from "New England Tropical Storms and Hurricanes, A Ninety-eight Year Summary 1909-1997" by David R. Vallee and Michael R. Dion, National Weather Service, Taunton, MA. A more thorough examination of individual storms can be found in this document.

A. Frequency

1. Yearly Statistics

Forty-nine tropical cyclones have affected Southern New England since 1900; 18 were tropical storms, and 25 were hurricanes. The most active decade for tropical cyclone activity was the 1950s, when ten tropical cyclones affected the area; seven were hurricanes (Figure 73). The decade of the 1960s ranked second, with eight tropical cyclones; six were hurricanes. For six consecutive years, from 1958 to 1963, at least one tropical cyclone affected the area each season. The longest period between tropical cyclone events was 8 years, from 1977 through 1984. The most storms to affect the Southern New England in one season were three, occurring in 1954, when hurricanes Carol, Edna and Hazel affected New England.

2. Monthly Statistics

August and September are the most likely months for tropical cyclone activity in Southern New England. Eighteen tropical cyclones occurred in September, and 12 in August (Figure 74). The remaining storms were nearly evenly divided between June, July, and October, with five occurring in July, three in October, and two in June.

The earliest a tropical cyclone affected Southern New England was on June 22, 1972 - Tropical Storm Agnes.

The earliest a hurricane affected Southern New England was on August 9 and 10, 1976 - Hurricane Belle.

The latest Southern New England was affected by a tropical cyclone was on October 29, 1963 - Hurricane Ginny.

B. Wind Data

Observed wind speed data were available from various National Weather Service platforms, including those in: Boston MA, Warwick RI, Block Island RI, the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton MA, and, occasionally, from other airports and Coast Guard installations. Hence, the values given here represent actual recorded data and do not account for any " eyewitness" estimates of sustained wind speeds or wind gusts.

The strongest sustained 1-minute wind speed and wind gust ever recorded from a hurricane was at the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, MA, during the Great New England Hurricane in 1938. A sustained wind of 121 mph with a peak gust to 186 mph was recorded. Other notable wind records include wind gusts to 135 during Hurricane Carol and 130 mph during Hurricane Donna, both of which occurred on Block Island. Sustained winds of 100 mph with a peak gust to 125 mph occurred in Downtown Providence, during the passage of Hurricane Carol. Hurricane Bob produced sustained winds of 100 mph with a peak gust to 125 mph at North Truro on Cape Cod.

C. Storm Surge

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 produced the greatest storm tides this century in southern New England. The storm tide reached 19.01 feet (MLLW) at the State Street Station Dock on the upper part of Narragansett Bay during the 1938 Hurricane, associated with a 13.7 foot storm surge. Hurricane Carol brought a slightly higher storm surge, 14.4 feet over the upper portions of Narragansett Bay, but produced a slightly lower storm tide of 17.51 feet (MLLW), due to its arrival shortly after high tide.

D. Precipitation

Precipitation information was gathered from several sources, including various National Weather Service Offices and cooperative observing sites. The greatest 24 hour rainfall ever recorded in Southern New England from a tropical cyclone occurred in Westfield, MA during Tropical Storm Diane in 1955. An incredible 18.15 inches fell during the storm, causing catastrophic flooding and a storm total of 19.76 inches.

E. Pressure Data

Sea-level pressure data were gathered from several sources, including National Weather Service Offices, from state airports, Coast Guard installations, and several ship reports. The lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in Southern New England was observed at Middletown, CT during the Great New England Hurricane 1938, with a pressure of 28.00 inches. This hurricane brought a pressure of 27.94 inches to Bellport, Long Island as the center crossed the Island on its way toward Middletown. Hurricane Edna produced a pressure of 28.02 inches at Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard. A report of 27.70 inches was observed at Woods Hole, in Falmouth, MA, but based on the storm track, this pressure is believed to be in error.

F. Storm Motion

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 had the fastest forward speed when it struck Southern New England at approximately 60 mph. Hurricane Gerda in 1969 ranked second with a forward speed of 48 mph. The slowest moving systems to affect Southern New England were Hurricane Esther in 1961 with an average speed of only 6 mph, and Hurricane Edouard in 1996 with an average speed of 14 mph.

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