Long Island Express

Words on Weather & Climate by Craig James, September 30, 2010

September 30, 2010 // 0 Comments

The Long Island Express  by CRAIG JAMES  In last week’s article I wrote about the extreme weather that occurred in 1888, 1896 and 1899. This week I want to take a look at the incredible hurricane that devastated New England on September 21, 1938. This is another amazing weather event most people have never heard about. Back in 1938, there was no weather radar, no satellites and no ocean buoys. Ocean weather observations came from ship reports and occasionally an aircraft. The U.S. Weather Bureau, now called the National Weather Service, knew that a storm had formed in early September just off the African coast. The storm had probably reached category five status as it passed north of the Bahamas on the 19th. Charlie Pierce, a young research forecaster for the Weather Bureau, concluded that the storm would not curve out to sea and miss the United States, as most storms in this area do, but would instead track due north. But as so often happens in many organizations, he was overruled by more senior meteorologists and the official forecast called for nothing more than cloudy skies and gusty conditions in New England. Because the official forecast contained no cause for alarm, even as the winds picked up speed and the waves rolled in, nobody realized that a catastrophe was only a few hours away. Instead of re-curving out to sea, the storm moved due north from off the coast of Virginia and accelerated in forward speed to 70 mph. In the history of hurricanes, this is the fastest known forward speed recorded. Because of its speed of movement, the storm became known as the “Long Island Express.” As residents of Long Island and southern New England looked off to the south, what they thought was a bank of fog moving north actually turned out to be the storm surge, or wall of water, over 15 feet high with waves of over 30 feet on top of the surge. Millions of tons of sea water swept entire homes and families into the sea. The impact of the storm surge was so powerful that it was actually recorded on the earthquake seismograph at Fordham University in New York City. The storm created a new inlet separating […]