When New Englanders think of September 1938, what comes to mind is the great hurricane that
struck. It certainly was a major hurricane, producing winds over 100 mph from New London to
Fall River and causing a massive amount of wind damage. In addition, the storm produced
major flooding, much of the flooding occurring in the same areas that had record breaking
flooding only two years prior.
The initial cause of the flooding was not however the hurricane. The rains produced with the
hurricane took a minor or moderate flood and resulted in the major flooding that occurred in
1938. Rainfall of over an inch occurred on both September 12 and September 15. This did not
cause any significant flooding, but it did cause a significant rise in river levels, groundwater
levels, and soil moisture. The stage was set. On September 17-20, a large storm produced large
areas of more than 6 inch rainfall. This rainfall was sufficient to produce flooding, particularly
over many tributary rivers throughout New England.
This was followed by the hurricane on September 21 which again produced widespread areas of
6 inch rainfall. The area of maximum precipitation for the entire 5 day period fell over the
Thames River basin in eastern Connecticut where areas of over 13 inches of rainfall were
recorded. Isolated reports of over 17 inches were also received. The Quinnebaug River in the
Thames drainage was particularly hard hit. Many of the tributary rivers to the Connecticut River
also saw record flows, notably on the Deerfield, Millers, and Chicopee. The resultant flow on
the Connecticut, although not as high as recorded in 1936, produced major flooding. The table
below shows a selection of areas that were particularly hard hit during the 1938 storm.
The combination of the floods and hurricane resulted in the loss of approximately 600 lives.
Property damage was estimated to exceed 400 million dollars.
|Merrimack||Lowell||121,000 cfs||26.1 csm|
|Contoocook||Penacook||42,400 cfs||55 csm|
|Shetucket||Willimantic||52,200 cfs||129 csm||27.6 ft|
|Quinnebaug||Baltic||77,700 cfs||61 csm|
|Deerfield||Charlemont||56,300 cfs||156 csm||20.2 ft *|
|Connecticut||Thompsonville||236,000 cfs||14.4 ft|
|Connecticut||Hartford||232,000 cfs||35.4 ft|
|Farmington||Tariffville||29,900 cfs||52 csm||14.0 ft|
|Millers||Erving||29,000 cfs||78 csm||13.4 ft *|