slides: Rhode Island’s Biggest Storms: 75th Anniversary of Hurricane of ‘38
Saturday, September 21, 2013
However, 75 years ago, it was a much different story, when the Hurricane of '38 wreaked havoc on the eastern seabord.
Today, GoLocal takes a look back at some of the biggest storms in the state's history -- and talks with one of Rhode Island's biggest weather experts of all time, John Ghiorse, on hurricanes, media, and mother nature.
The Ghiorse Factor
"Contrast that to today’s media blitz and frenzy anytime something happens from the mundane to historic. These days everything, and I mean everything, is hyped and over analyzed to the nth degree. And that brings me to what, I believe, is contributing to, if not causing, all of the angst over the so called “ Mother Nature has gone wild” syndrome that pervades our lives these days," he continued.
"Natural events such as floods, wild fires, tornadoes, snowstorms and, yes, hurricanes that have occurred for eons are suddenly so remarkable to some that it’s as if they have never happened before. In spite of technological advances (satellites, Doppler radar, computers) in detecting weather events that would have gone unnoticed years ago, statistics show that there has been no increase in the frequency or intensity of these events in recent years as compared to the history of the past several decades. In fact, this year both tornadic and tropical storm activity have been at nearly historic lows. The tide of weather events ebbs and flows from year to year, decade to decade, century to century. There is no “normal”."
Putting Mother Nature in Perspective
"So why all the hype? I believe part of it has to do with media competition … the need for news organizations to be out there “first with the most … if we don’t cover it they will”. But it goes far beyond that," continued Ghiorse. "Population increase and changes in population density and location make it so that those natural disasters are occurring in areas that have not been populated before. Suburban and urban areas have spread into the forests, deserts, plains and coastlines making many more people vulnerable to the dangers of wild fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes than in past years."
The good news is that warnings are much better than they were 10 years ago and certainly far better than 75 years ago when the big hurricane hit. The ’38 Hurricane hit with NO warning. It killed well over 700 people in the Northeast. The population has more than doubled since then but subsequent hurricanes have not approached that number in the Northeast. In 1925 a single tornado killed nearly 700 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Warnings have improved dramatically since then although improvements including longer lead times are needed."
See the biggest storms to ever hit the state below.
“The Battle of Rhode Island began on August 9, 1778, when 11,000 Continental line troops and militia crossed Howland’s Ferry to reinforce the state militia in preparation for an attack on the British in that state. Meanwhile, the French fleet under d’Estaing blocked the small naval force at Narragansett Bay. When a larger British fleet arrived to challenge the French, they prepared to do battle, but a hurricane (August 13–14) scattered the ships and severely damaged both fleets. The French sailed to Boston for repairs, leaving the Americans without naval back-up or the anticipated French landing troops. The Americans attempted to withdraw, the British troops attacked on August 29. The 1st Rhode Island, a black regiment, took part in the action. After a twelve-day siege, the Americans realized they could not penetrate the British lines without naval back-up from the French. They were forced to withdraw, leaving the British in place.”
“The Great September Gale produced significant wind damage in Connecticut, Rhode Island, east-central Massachusetts, and southeastern New Hampshire. Parts of Providence, RI, experienced tides 4.3 m (14 ft) greater than usual and in Buzzards Bay, MA, the tide is calculated to have risen 4.8 m (15.9 ft) above normal. At least 38 fatalities were a result of the Great September Gale. The hurricane also caused the destruction of some 500 homes and 35 ships in Narragansett, RI, as a 3.4m (11ft) storm surge funneled up Narragansett Bay.”
“A tremendous hurricane pounded New England on September 8th, 1869. The eye cut across the eastern tip of Long Island and, as so often occurs, Providence, Rhode Island was swamped. Boston also reported extensive damage. On October 5, 1869 the more infamous hurricane known as ‘Saxby’s Gale’ took a more easterly track striking Nova Scotia, Canada full on. This hurricane did little damage in the United States. It is famous because a British Navy Lieutenant, S.M. Saxby, had predicted the storm almost one year earlier in November 1868 based upon his “prophesy” of an unprecedented lunar high tide occurring due to the moon’s close ‘passage to the equator by October 1869’. The storm did happen. In New England the result was extraordinary rainfall: 4.27” in two hours at Goffstown, New Hampshire and 12.25” storm total at Canton near Hartford, Connecticut, a similar total to those of Hurricane Connie in 1955.”
For the 1927 New England flood, all lives lost occurred in Vermont with the exception of a death in Rhode Island. Of the Vermont fatalities, 55 were in the Winooski Valley where the storm's heaviest rains fell during the night time hours, according to Albert Kachic, a retired weather service regional hydrologist who specializes in flood history. Total property damage was conservatively estimated as $40 million ($960 million in 1997 dollars), of which $28 million dollars ($672 million in 1997 dollars) occurred in Vermont.
“The hurricane, one of the most destructive to ever hit New England, was followed by massive river flooding as the water dumped by the storm—10 to 17 inches fell on the Connecticut River basin—returned to the sea. By the time the devastation was over, 564 people were dead and more than 1,700 injured, 8,900 homes were completely gone as were 2,600 boats. Trees and buildings damaged by the storm could still be seen by the 1950s.”
“In Connecticut, the most significant storm impact was the heavy, widespread rainfall. Totals of around 178 mm (7 in) were seen in the Hartford area, but the city of Bridgeport saw the greatest official total at 272.8 mm (10.7 in). Tobacco and fruit damage in Connecticut totaled to about $2 million (1944 USD) with similar overall damage costs occurring in Rhode Island. Greater than $5 million (1944 USD) in damage done on Cape Cod can be attributed to lost boats, as well as fallen trees and utility damage.”
“On the morning of August 31, Hurricane Carol, the most destructive hurricane to strike Southern New England since the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, came crashing ashore near Old Saybrook, Connecticut, leaving 65 people dead in her wake. Carol had developed in the Bahamas several days earlier, making only slow progress northward. Carol began her rapid acceleration during the evening of August 30, while passing just east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Carol made landfall on eastern Long Island and southeastern Connecticut about 12 hours later, moving at over 35 mph.”
“Donna is the only hurricane of record to produce hurricane-force winds in Florida, the Mid-Atlantic states, and New England. Sombrero Key, Florida reported 128 mph sustained winds with gusts to 150 mph. In the Mid-Atlantic states, Elizabeth City, North Carolina reported 83 mph sustained winds, while Manteo, North Carolina reported a 120 mph gust. In New England, Block Island, Rhode Island reported 95 mph sustained winds with gusts to 130 mph.”
“Hurricane Gloria produced a rather modest storm surge of 4 to 7 feet above normal in most of the north Atlantic States. Fortunately for tens of thousands of people - Gloria arrived at low tide. A few locations on eastern Long Island reported modest storm surge damage. Tides of 7-feet above normal flooded homes from Hempstead to the Hamptons. In Connecticut, tides were measured at 5.5 feet above normal at New Haven and 4.5 feet above normal from the Lymes to Groton. In Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, storm surges were generally less than 5-feet above normal.”
FM Global, one of the world’s largest commercial property insurers, warned that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene had the potential to leave unprecedented damage because of her severity, path and overall geographic footprint, if the current forecast holds true. Hurricane Katrina left damages of $108 billion, according to the company, but because of where Irene was expected to hit, FM Global said there was potential for significantly more damage.
Sandy Hit New Jersey, New York and New England with tremendous force. Rhode Island took a direct hit in communities like Narragansett where the Narragansett Beach area was devastated.
Westerly to Providence were hit hard by the storm surge, wind damage and poweroutages.
The impact - tens of millions in damage and power loss that lasted nearly a week for some.
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