The 1938 Long Island Express

Many storms come and go, leaving an endless trail of destruction and shattered dreams, but only a few such events reach legendary stature among its counterparts. These storms roll in like an apocalyptic insurgent, consuming anything and everything without prejudice or reason. These dark monsters like Katrina and the Tri-State Tornado of 1925 are soon adapted into history for their notable level of damage they have caused, and one such storm achieved this notoriety during a fateful hurricane on September 21st 1938; The Long Island Express.

The Great Hurricane of 1938, a.k.a. The Long Island Express, was dubbed for both the high rate of speed it traveled, and the extremely unheard of path it followed, which landed on the shores of Long Island, New York. The massive category five hurricane first was spotted in the farthest regions of the Atlantic Tropics, according to reports made by sea bound mariners that spotted the mammoth storm 350 miles north of Puerto Rico. The report made on September sixteenth alerted the US National Weather Bureau, who began tracking the storm. Unfortunately the storm path was gravely miscalculated, due to lack of advance meteorological monitoring technology, and the way the storm deviated from any other previous recorded storm paths.

By the late afternoon of Friday September, 16th Gordon Dunn and Grady Norton from the US Weather Bureau had issued the residents of Miami, a bulletin to prepare them for the category five hurricane that was scheduled to hit landfall, by the following Tuesday afternoon; totally unaware that the storm was not congruent with any of their carefully laid predictions. By Monday evening, just a day before the intended landfall, the Long Island Express had already begun diverting its course on a northerly trajectory, traveling at an unprecedented surface speed of 20mph or more. The abnormal path dubbed as a C curvature was the first recorded event that showed this type of hurricane characteristic, which was also the reason that New York had no warning at all.

Dunn and Norton knew something was wrong when they lost track of the storm just off the Cape Hatteras, they assumed it would curve eastward, but the national weather map showed no storm moving out to sea. They determined afterward that the Long Island Express must have pushed speeds between twenty and forty miles per hour, due to the fuel absorbed from the abnormally warm temperature of the water, but luckily the cooler waters and land fall subdued the storm to a category three before it fully was unleashed upon Rhode Island. Despite this drastic decrease it was still strong enough to cause some of the most extensive damage ever recorded along the New England shores.

Sometime during the mid afternoon on Wednesday, September 21, a swarm of black clouds quickly descended upon Long Island Sound, enveloping the entire shore in swath of unimaginable winds. Trees and telephone poles began snapping like twigs, and surges of twenty to forty feet began trampling the Rhode Island residents. Some of the strongest winds were recorded both in Long Island, and in south eastern Connecticut, but because of the speed and damage level of the storm, few weather recording stations were able to capture enough data to secure the most accurate readings.

Wind speeds ranged between 98-150mph, but it was the massive flooding from storm surges, that nearly wiped Rhode Island off the map. To truly judge the magnitude of this particular storm we have to examine the barometric pressure, which were indicative of the actual size of the hurricanes eye. Between Rhode Island, and Connecticut, readings of approximately 27.94 inches (946-mb) to 28.05 inches (950mb, put the eye at approximately thirty-miles wide, one of the top five largest to date.

After the storm finally moved off, the level of destruction was more than apparent; radio towers were mangled beyond recognition, entire forests were leveled, and even large ships were found beached. With over 682 deaths, approximately 708 recorded injuries, and well over fifty thousand homes leveled to timbers. Looking back at this storm of the century, recently in 2005 they approximated that the $400,000 in damage would have equaled to over 6.5 billion dollars, making this one of the worst natural disasters known to North America. Some analysts projected that if a storm of equal magnitude was to hit the same location today, the number would be over ten times as high, and the death toll, would have been incomprehensible.

Even now, some subtle examples of evidence can be found all throughout the coastal areas of New England, Rhode Island and Connecticut; but even after the two million trees had been replanted, and over twenty six thousand autos had been replaced, the reality of this kind of disaster is a wound much too deep to be soon forgotten.