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.
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.
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