What's in a New England Hurricane? Part I

(The heart of Hurricane Season is here.  New England has seen its fair share of Hurricanes over the years.  There is a lot of information.  This is part 1 of the series!)

We are at the time of year when every single thunderstorm cluster that glides off the west coast of Africa is studied by meteorologists like its an incoming asteroid ready to strike the earth.  Social media is filled with 240/360/384 hour forecasts that have a slim chance to verify but they are sexy click bait that drives viewers to web pages.  Given the "hurricane drought" in some parts of the United States the coverage and hype of the "next" big storm will be overwhelming.  But at the same time it is justified.
9th Ward New Orleans Hurricane Katrina (NOLA.com)
Who can forget the haunting images of Hurricanes Katrina's flooding and storm surge?  Or the massive wind damage from Hurricane Andrew.
Homestead Florida 1992 Hurricane Andrew
Just one year before in 1991 a Hurricane named Bob formed off the Florida coast in the Bahama's,  Bob became a major hurricane while moving off the North Carolina coast before striking Block Island and Newport on August 19, 1991.  New England has not seen a storm make landfall at Hurricane strength since then.  It is a surprising statistic and it is one of luck.  In recent years Hurricane Bill (2009), Hurricane Earl (2010), Hurricane Irene (2011), Hurricane Sandy (2012) and Hurricane Arthur (2014) have made close passes to the region.  Of these Irene and Sandy were the most significant with Irene producing historic floods in Vermont and Sandy devastating storm surge along the Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts.
Misquamicut Beach Westerly RI Hurricane Sandy 2012 via google
Hurricanes produce strong waves, coastal flooding, inland flooding and wind damage.  Each storm is different and throughout history New England is no different.  People who grew up between 1930-1960 though of hurricanes as a late summer early fall hazard that was as much a part of life as blizzards in winter time.  Given historical averages The outer Cape sees a direct hurricane hit every 13-16 years.  Long Island is 17-19 years.
NHC Return Period Hurricane Landfalls
The rate of return is close to some areas along the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic coasts.  In other words outside of Southern Florida, the Central Gulf Coast and coast Carolina Southern New England has just as good a chance as any for a direct tropical cyclone landfall.  The rate of return for a major hurricane is longer.
Rate of Return Major Hurricane (image NHC)
Its more along the lines of 50-70 years for a major hurricane which makes sense.  The last was Carol in 1954 but a case could be made for Edna (also 1954) and Donna (1960).  Here is a list of my New England storms of note.
New England storms of note
As you can see most of the storms are in the middle of August through September.  I don't know if we are going to add to that list this year.  You will likely see maps floating around the internet of storms and rumors of storms.  These will not be reliable.  Of course a 16 day weather model will forecast a hurricane- its the middle of the season.  It's not surprising to see weather charts showing hurricanes turning up the east coast either.  It has happened many times in history.

This will not sound humble but I happen to know quite a bit about hurricanes.  I've been tracking them since I was 7 years old when Hurricane Edouard in 1996 tracked very close to the New England coast.  I was fortunate to present research in college on the North Atlantic Hurricane season.  But I know nothing compared to the guys and gals at the National Hurricane Center.  They make the official forecasts and advisories.  Some on social media think they know more than the NHC.  I would advise against taking information from these people.    The NHC  has so much data and team of meteorologists.  Unless I have solid evidence not to which I will show my readers I will also take the NHC information.  So let's go back to 1955 first.  The 38, 44 and 54 storms deserve their own post.

Hurricane Connie and Diane
On August 13-15, 1955 Hurricane Connie struck North Carolina and bent west towards the Ohio Valley.  However rains from the storm dropped 3-5 inches of rain in Southern New England with more out in Western MA/CT.
Hurricane Connie rainfall (image Wikipedia)
NOAA/NCEP reanalysis upper air, mid level and surface weather maps August 13, 1955
This wasn't a huge deal in New England.  But 5 days later another Hurricane struck North Carolina.  Instead of bending west the storm moved northeast after landfall.  The storm dropped over 15 inches of rain in Southern New England on top of the 3-5 from a few days prior!
Hurricane Diane precipitation (image Wikipedia)
NOAA/NCEP reanalysis upper air, mid level and surface weather maps August 18 1955
Diane turned east instead of west thanks to high pressure in the Ohio Valley blocking the storm from going further west (compare top right images for both storms).  I borrowed this image from Paula LaFleur and the You Might be From Northbridge facebook page.
Plummer Street, Whitinsville,MA August 19, 1955
The flood crested at over 16 feet in Rockdale where a river observation station is.
River center forecast historic crests Blackstone River at Northbridge
The second part of the series will be released this weekend and it will feature current conditions in the Atlantic and a look back at Hurricane Bob.  Today we looked at what flooding can do to Southern New England.   Bob will show us what a Category 2 Hurricane can do to the region.    Again I don't know if we will see a tropical system in 2016 but we must learn from the past in order to prepare for the next one, whenever it comes.


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