19 September 2010

19 September - Hurricanes

Weather: If on September 19, there is a storm from the south, a mild winter may be expected.

If on September 19, there is a storm from the south, it is liable to be a hurricane, and a pretty hefty one at that.

Case in point: the New England Hurricane of 1938 - aka the Long Island Express - which on this day that year, was churning pretty quickly up the coast to hit the unsuspecting populace of Long Island and southern New England two days later on the 21st.

The storm was so strong and fast that it plowed through Connecticut and Rhode Island to Massachusetts and Vermont, then Quebec (no, it didn't need a passport), and finally died in Ontario.

Photos and eyewitness accounts of survivors are horrific.  Between 600 (official body counts) and 800 people were killed, over half of them in Rhode Island; property damage was in the millions.  The storm surge and the killer waves behind it - those towering walls of water, which looked to one man like a fog bank on the horizon - pounded the coastline and overwashed the islands and low-lying areas of Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, and the southern Rhode Island and Massachusetts coastlines.  The Bay formed a funnel, pushing the water higher and with ever-increasing speed until it crashed into the city of Providence at its tip, where almost 14 feet of water surged through the downtown streets.  Motorists were drowned in their autos, and pedestrians were pulled out into the Bay.  Those who could swim to safety were rescued by people hanging out of second story windows.

Houses and buildings disappeared into the waves all along the coastline, along with their terrified occupants.  Boats were driven onto the shore and into houses.  As far from the coast as Vermont, whole forests of trees fell like matchsticks in the blowdown.  Along the coast, sandbars and islands disappeared; new inlets formed.

That was one nightmarish day.

The Hurricane page at southstation.org has several photos of the unbelievable devastation in the area.

My old farmhouse, built in 1917, survived all of the hurricanes of 1924, 1927, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1944, 1950, 1953, 1954, 1960, 1961, 1971, and 1976.  Between the time we closed on our house in 1985 and the day we moved in, Hurricane Gloria intervened, knocking down a bunch of trees on the edge of our property line.  Hurricane Bob in 1991 accounted for a couple more trees in the front yard.  Since then, it has mostly been near-misses and tropical storms - a few high winds, a few power outages, a little localized flooding, nothing to get upset about.  The complacency here is visible.  People have again built in the low-lying areas, or made their own islands in the midst of the local rivers.

Well, that's their privilege.  As for me, the only hurricane I want to experience is this one: