A recap of strongest Hurricane to ever hit New England

Believe it or not, the Great Hurricane of 1938 was not the strongest Hurricane on record to hit the northeast.  A powerful cyclone in August of 1635 has that distinction.  The storm originally was believed to have been a category 3 hurricane at landfall (winds between 111-130 mph) but its a popular topic in forum's and many believe the storm was at least a category 4 hurricane (131-155 mph) when it roared ashore.  The central pressure of the hurricane read 938 mb (27.7 inches of mercury (Hg)).  The exact track is uncertain, but reports from Jamestown , Virginia indicate severe damage as the storm passed close by the colony.  The storm raced North and slightly east, crossing Long Island and then striking the south New England coast.  The eye of the Hurricane exited the New England coast between Boston and Plymouth before affecting Atlantic Canada.

This is the track of the Great Hurricane of 1944.  The great Colonial Hurricane is believed to have taken a similar path.

Damage across Rhode Island and Massachusetts was extensive.  The Hurricane produced the largest recorded storm surge ever in New England.  It was 15 feet in Providence and 22 feet elsewhere along Narragansett and Buzzard's Bay.  Scores of Native American's were killed by the flood waters.  Plymouth, MA suffered extreme damage as did many settlement's south of Boston.  46 known death's occured, but it's possible many more actually died during the storm.  A study done by the Atmospheric Oceanic Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Re-analysis project indicated to the team that this was the largest storm surge to ever hit the east coast of the United States.  Governor William Bradford and John Winthrop each gave accounts of storm talking of widespread devastation and flooded farmland, again likely due to the storm surge.

Storm surge is caused from the continuous force exerted on the ocean by strong winds of a hurricane.  The water piles up and pushes its way toward's whatever happen's to be in it's path.  The shear destruction on the Mississippi coast from Hurricane Katrina was from a 28 foot storm surge, the largest on record in the United States.  The surge is NOT the tall waves also caused by strong winds of a hurricane.  Waves build on top of the surge.  So a 15 foot storm surge plus 30 foot waves indicates a 45 foot wall of water pushing onshore.

As I go along recapping infamous New England Hurricanes I want people to pay attention to the storm surge.  Buzzard's Bay and Narragansett Bay are particularly vulnerable to storm surge.  Downtown Providence is one of the most vulnerable in the country, but due to the relative rarity of New England storm's still often get's overlooked.  The signal's are pointing to an era of increased Hurricane activity in the Northeast over the next 25 years, give or a take a few years.  Frim 1938-1961 6 Hurricanes made landfall in southern New England and 3 of them were major.  We've seen just 2 since 1977, neither of them were major.  Hurricane Bob was one of the worst to hit Cape Cod and that struck with winds of "just 105" mph.  With the Atlantic back in it's warm phase and the Pacific flipping to cool, more east coast major hurricane activity is expected.

I fear the damage that will occur when a major hurricane makes it return to New England.  Considering the lack of experience we have with hurricanes, the rapid coastal development of the last 50 years and the population boom there will be extreme damage.  I urge everyone, including those living inland to make a plan.  It's possible that a storm would knock out communication, from cell phone towers to power lines and everything in between.  Contacting friends and love ones in the hardest hit areas will be difficult if not impossible.  Make a disaster plan.  These storms have hit before and they will hit again.

This link is from the 2010 Southern New England Weather Conference.  Check out Lessons Learned in Hurricane Forecasting by Bryan Norcross (Weather Channel Hurricane Expert) and Max Mayfield (former director of National Hurricane Center).


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