Saturday marks 75th anniversary of Great New England Hurricane of 1938

FILE - This September 1938 photo shows a damaged ferry boat sitting in shallow water in Providence, R.I., following the deadly hurricane of 1938 that hit the Northeast. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 hit the New England Coast 75-years ago Sept. 21.(AP Photo/Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones/FILE)
A damaged ferry boat in Providence after the deadly hurricane of 1938Credit: Leslie Jones/Boston Public Library/AP

Saturday, Sept. 21, will bring some good weather. A few clouds might spoil the full effect of the sun, but conditions through the region are expected to be dry and pleasant, with temperatures in the upper 70s.

Seventy-five years ago, on Sept. 21, 1938, it was a whole different story.

Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, a deadly and destructive storm that killed 564 people and injured another 1,700, according to the National Weather Service.

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The eye of the hurricane hit land on New York’s Long Island at the time of an exceptionally high tide and moved north at 50 miles per hour toward Southern New England, according to the Weather Service, which has been posting information on the storm to commemorate the anniversary.

The storm brought the strongest winds ever recorded in Southern New England, with sustained winds of 121 miles per hour and a peak gust of 186 miles per hour recorded at the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton. The hurricane produced storm tides of 14 to 18 feet across the Connecticut coast, and 18- to 25-foot tides from New London to Cape Cod, forecasters said.

The water destroyed coastal communities throughout New England. Providence was submerged under 20 feet of water; Falmouth and New Bedford residents saw 8 feet of water inundate their towns.

Ruth Bates of West Warwick, R.I., was 18 when the hurricane hit. She was working at a store in town called the Candy Kitchen when the hurricane approached, her granddaughter Kelly Riley told the Weather Service.

“Mrs. Bates remembers the sky turning very dark, very quickly in the early afternoon,” Riley said. “She recalls it was so dark that it was almost like night had fallen.”

A frontal system a few days prior to the hurricane combined with it to produce nonstop rainfall of between 10 to 17 inches across much of the Connecticut River Valley, forecasters said. The Connecticut River in Hartford reached 35.4 feet, a level nearly 20 feet above the flood stage.

Flooding destroyed 8,900 homes and 2,600 boats. More than 15,000 homes and more than 3,000 boats were damaged, according to the weather service.

Donald Ellis, a selectman in Bourne, turned 4 years old the day the hurricane hit, and was celebrating with friends at his grandparents’ house in Sagamore. The party was cut short, he told the weather service, when the skies turned gray.

“My father made the decision that the party was over and the children should be taken home,” Ellis said to the weather service.

“By 3:30 p.m., my guests had all been safely delivered to their respective homes nearby. As the day wore on, the weather deteriorated, the wind picked up, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

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