The Great Mistake
On September 21, 1938 the official forecast for Long Island and the New England area was for cloudy skies and gusty conditions. By 3:30 PM an enormous hurricane struck with 30-50 foot waves, 14-25 foot storm tides, and winds gusting over 180 mph depending on location. That hurricane became known as The Long Island Express because from 100-150 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina until it hit land on Long Island it traveled 60-70 mph, the fastest known forward speed recorded in the history of tracking hurricanes. There is no denying the catastrophe it brought even initially when numerous buildings and homes were washed out to sea with people still in them.
The 1938 Atlantic storm season had only 8 recorded storms with five being merely tropical storms. The Long Island Express was the forth known storm of the season and the last hurricane for that year. There were four more tropical storms that followed but never became hurricanes. Comparative data for 1938 shows that the first hurricane on August 10-15 originated near the lesser Antilles and hosted sustained winds of 85 mph and was a category 2 at it’s height. The second on August 23-28 was the same as the first though it is known that the pressure low was 979 MB. The Long Island express followed 13 days after the second hurricane, and unlike the first two originated on the far side of the Atlantic with sustained winds of 140 mph and a pressure of 938 MB (around landfall) 11 days after it was first noted). For a modern comparison, Hurricane Ivan reached 938 MB on September 9, 2004 six and a half days after it formed and fluctuated between 910 MB (September 12) and 940 MB until the 16th before dying down. Hurricane Dennis reached 938 MB on July 7, 2005 at it’s highest wind speed of 130 mph four days after it formed.
35.20N -73.10W 09/21/12Z 100 938 HURRICANE-3
The Long Island Express’ earliest plotted data is from September 10, 1938 06Z, or 2 AM EDT, where as a Tropical Storm it’s location was at 14.2N and 21.5W which is off the coast of Africa. People in 1938 didn’t become aware of the storm until September 13. It moved west-northwestward, passed north of Puerto Rico on the 18th and 19th and turned northward on September 20. From the morning of September 20th until the morning of the 21st the storm averaged a forward movement of around 12.5 mph. Two other systems then influenced the storm’s forward speed and direction. A strong Bermuda high sat further out in the Atlantic blocking the storm from moving east as expected. Also, a trough of low pressure was moving east from the Great Lakes which essentially squeezed The Long Island Express to move due North at an unprecedented forward speed. At landfall, the hurricane itself had sustained winds of approximately 100-110 mph, however, with including the forward speed of 60-70 mph the gusts easily reached 160-180mph.
The Long Island Express’ Aftermath:
*688 people were killed.
*4500 were injured.
*75,000 buildings were damaged.
*8900 homes, cottages and buildings were destroyed.
*15000 homes, cottages, and buildings were damaged.
*26,000 automobiles destroyed.
*20,000 miles of electrical power and telephone lines downed.
*1,700 livestock killed.
*750,000 chickens killed.
*$2,610,000 worth of fishing boats, equipment, docks, and shore plants damaged or destroyed.
*2,605 vessels were destroyed.
*3,369 vessels were damaged.
*Half the entire apple crop destroyed at a cost of $2 million.
*An estimated 2,000,000,000 trees knocked down.
*An estimated $4.5 billion (2007 USD) in damages.
*The Connecticut River, in Hartford reached 19.4 feet above flood stage.
*The Connecticut River around Springfield, Massachusetts, reached 6 to 10 feet above flood stage.
*Narragansett Bay had a storm surge of 12 to 15 feet.
*Downtown Providence, Rhode Island was submerged under a storm tide of nearly 20 feet.
*Falmouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts were submerged under as much as 8 feet of water.
*Storm tides of 14 to 18 feet occurred across most of the Connecticut coast.
*18 to 25 foot tides from New London, Connecticut east to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
*An estimated 63,000 people were forced to seek emergency help and shelter.
*In less than 12 hours, the storm’s path of destruction covered 40,000 square miles of New York and New England.