PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE GRAY ME
1200 AM EST FRI FEB 02 2001
...25th Anniversary -- THE GREAT BANGOR STORM SURGE FLASH FLOOD...
While few people likely remember the prognostication of the groundhog
25 years ago today, many residents along the Maine coast and in the
inland city of Bangor, still remember what was to be a most unusual
Groundhog Day, 25 years ago today, February 2, 1976.
The weather pattern was very stormy. Low pressure had developed
the mid-Atlantic coast overnight and had moved rapidly northeastward to
extreme southwestern Maine by early in the morning. As the storm moved
north-northeastward, it intensified rapidly causing very strong
southerly winds to develop along the mid- and downeast-coast of Maine.
These strong winds continued during the morning hours as the storm
tracked northward through western Maine. The strong southerly winds
caused ocean water to begin to pile up along the coast of Maine from
Brunswick to Eastport, and sent a historic storm surge up the Penobscot
River and into the city of Bangor.
For residents in the city of Bangor, while the day started out
with high winds and heavy rain, nobody had any idea of the dramatic
events that were about to unfold. Within hours the city would be hit
hard by the highly unusual storm surge as it moved rapidly up the
Penobscot River. Due to the funneling effects of the Penobscot River,
the surge grew as it approached the unsuspecting city of Bangor.
The flood waters rose rapidly as they reached downtown Bangor
after 11 am, reportedly flooding sections of the downtown area to a
depth of 12 feet within 15 minutes. With water rising at a rate of
about 10 inches per minute, residents could do little to escape the
frigid waters. Many residents became trapped in their cars and in
buildings. Several workers that saw the rapidly rising water tried to
rescue their vehicles from parking lots in the area, only to become
trapped as their cars began to float. Eventually, the cars began to
sink and the occupants were forced to climb onto rooftops to await
help. In one case, a lady was forced to hop from car-rooftop to
rooftop as successive cars sunk in the icy-cold waters. Many people
watched as, within 30 minutes, about 200 cars fell victim to the surge
and disappeared into the rising flood waters. Fortunately, thanks the
heroic actions of some of the residents in the area, no one died in the
storm. However, many of the cars submerged in the flood waters were
catastrophically damaged. The surge also flooded the basements and
lower floors of numerous buildings in the area, damaging bank vaults,
electrical equipment and causing several fires.
Along the Maine coast, a storm surge of 3 to 5 feet combined with
winds and large waves to cause numerous problems. In Southwest Harbor,
the Coast Guard recorded a wind of 115 miles per hour during the
morning. High winds caused considerable damage to structures along the
downeast coast; some roofs were torn from buildings. In addition to
the surge, wind-driven waves estimated at 14 feet high damaged
structures along the coast, some of which slid into the ocean before
being ripped apart by the pounding surf.
In Searsport, a large Japanese freighter that was anchored offshore
awaiting a load of french fries, dragged its anchor and washed aground.
The freighter spent weeks awaiting a sufficiently high tide before it
could be freed to return to the ocean.
The Bangor flood of February 2, 1976 was the result of several
which happened to coincide on that date. First, the sun, moon, and
earth were generally in alignment, causing a very high astronomical
tide. Second, the extremely intense low pressure center that tracked
west of the Penobscot River caused the very strong southerly winds to
develop over the Penobscot Bay. Third, the wind driven storm surge
occurred near the time of high tide. And fourth, the funneling effects
of the Penobscot Bay and River allowed the surge to move up the river
and grow as it headed toward the city of Bangor. In addition, the
heavy rain which accompanied the storm also likely contributed to the
While there is nothing that could prevent this extremely rare
from happening again, much more is known about storm surges than was
known 25 years ago. In fact, National Weather Service forecasters now
have access to storm surge models to help predict the extent of
flooding from coastal storms. In addition, although the surge 25 years
ago was not caused by a hurricane, the National Weather Services
Hurricane Storm Surge Model is now used to map areas flooded by storm
surges caused by hurricanes.
Where along the Maine coast do these hurricane storm surge models
the greatest threat of surges to be? In case you couldn't guess, in
and around the inland city of Bangor!
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE