The Great New England Hurricane of 1938
CAT 3 - September 21, 1938
The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was one of the most destructive and
powerful storms ever to strike Southern New England. This system developed in
the far eastern Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands on September 4. It made
a twelve day journey across the Atlantic and up the Eastern Seaboard before
crashing ashore on September 21 at Suffolk County, Long Island, then into
Milford, Connecticut. The eye of the hurricane was observed in New Haven,
Connecticut, 10 miles east of Milford. The center made landfall at the time of
astronomical high tide, moving north at 60 mph. Unlike most storms, this
hurricane did not weaken on its way toward Southern New England, due to its
rapid forward speed and its track. This kept the center of the storm over the
warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
Sustained hurricane force winds occurred throughout most of Southern New
England. The strongest winds ever recorded in the region occurred at the Blue
Hill Observatory with sustained winds of 121 mph and a peak gust of 186 mph.
Sustained winds of 91 mph with a gust to 121 mph was reported on Block Island.
Providence, Rhode Island recorded sustained winds of 100 mph with a gust to
125 mph. Extensive damage occurred to roofs, trees and crops. Widespread power
outages occurred, which in some areas lasted several weeks. In Connecticut,
downed power lines resulted in catastrophic fires to sections of New London
and Mystic. The lowest pressure at the time of landfall occurred on the south
side of Long Island, at Bellport, where a reading of 27.94 inches was
recorded. Other low pressures included 28.00 inches in Middletown, Connecticut
and 28.04 inches in Hartford, Connecticut.
The hurricane produced storm tides of 14 to 18 feet across most of the
Connecticut coast, with 18 to 25 foot tides from New London east to Cape Cod.
The destructive power of the storm surge was felt throughout the coastal
community. Narragansett Bay took the worst hit, where a storm surge of 12 to
15 feet destroyed most coastal homes, marinas and yacht clubs. Downtown
Providence, Rhode Island was submerged under a storm tide of nearly 20 feet.
Sections of Falmouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts were submerged under as
much as 8 feet of water. All three locations had very rapid tides increased
within 1.5 hours of the highest water mark.
Rainfall from this hurricane resulted in severe river flooding across
sections of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Three to six inches fell across
much of western Massachusetts and all but extreme eastern Connecticut.
Considerably less rain occurred to the east across Rhode Island and the
remainder of Massachusetts. The rainfall from the hurricane added to the
amounts that had occurred with a frontal system several days before the
hurricane struck. The combined effects from the frontal system and the
hurricane produced rainfall of 10 to 17 inches across most of the Connecticut
River Valley. This resulted in some of the worst flooding ever recorded in
this area. Roadways were washed away along with sections of the New York,
New Haven, and Hartford Railroad lines. The Connecticut River, in Hartford
reached a level of 35.4 feet, which was 19.4 feet above flood stage. Further
upstream, in the vicinity of Springfield, Massachusetts, the river rose to 6
to 10 feet above flood stage, causing significant damage. A total of 8,900
homes, cottages and buildings were destroyed, and over 15,000 were damaged by
the hurricane. The marine community was devastated. Over 2,600 boats were
destroyed, and over 3,300 damaged. Entire fleets were lost in marines and
yacht clubs along Narragansett Bay. The hurricane was responsible for 564
deaths and at least 1,700 injuries in Southern New England. Damage to the
fishing fleets in Southern New England was catastrophic. A total of 2,605
vessels were destroyed, with 3,369 damaged.
Widespread inland flooding, high winds inland, with severe coastal flooding.
Deaths: 564 Injured: >1,700
Destroyed: 2,600 Damaged: 3,300
Destroyed: 8,900 Damaged: > 15,000
Catastrophic fires touched off by powerlines in Connecticut!
This information was taken from "Southern 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.