The 1938 Long Island Express

The storm deemed “The 1938 Long Island Express” was one of the most notorious storms recorded in the history of the United States. Without warning, the storm was hit on the afternoon of September 21 and was responsible for more than 700 deaths, rendered 63,000 people homeless, and caused an estimated $6.2 million in damages. Estimates include 7,000 damaged and destroyed boats. Approximately 2 billion trees were destroyed in the path of this horrific storm.

The residents never saw it coming, they were totally unprepared for the worst disaster of their lives.

Sadly, the people in the path of the storm could have been forewarned but due to a error in judgment by chiefs forecaster of the U.S. Weather Bureau, the warning never went out.

Charlie Pierce, a junior forecaster with the U.S. Weather Bureau predicted the storm path and it’s intensity but was overruled by more senior meteorologists, and the information was not passed on to the public. The chief forecaster believed that the hurricane would curve out to sea before reaching the Northeast.

The storm was first detected on or about September 13 as it began formation over the Atlantic Ocean west of Africa and heading toward the Bahamas Islands. As it built velocity, it traveled through the area north of Puerto Rico building itself into a category 5 hurricane.

The category 5 hurricane was sweeping towards Florida by 19th of September. Suddenly, it took a turn north. Residents of Florida were relieved. By the 21st of September the storm had traveled 100 to 150 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Suddenly, the storm accelerated. With a forward motion of 60 to 70 mph, the storm hit Long Island and Connecticut by 3:30 p.m. that afternoon.

There was little time for warning for the residents of Long Island, New York. Fortunately, it had lost some velocity and had settled down to a Category 3 storm, which is still quite harmful and dangerous. Winds reached over 110 miles per hour with storm surges of over 10 feet.

After causing millions of dollars in damages and killing more than 600 people, the storm
turned into a extra-tropical storm, then slowly dissipated over southeastern Canada by September 22.

As the eye of the storm had made it’s way to Long Island, it passed through Providence, Rhode Island where it battered the state and flood waters rose to 17 feet above normal tide. Massachusetts reported winds at 121 miles per hour, storm surges were measured with heights reaching 25 feet.

Blue Hill Observatory, Massachusetts reported winds of 121 mph with gusts to 186 mph. The terrain of the area did nothing to help slow down the winds. The U.S. Coast Guard station in Long Island reported a minimum pressure of 27.94 in. 10 to 12 foot storm surges battered portions of the coast from Long Island to Connecticut and into southeastern Massachusetts. Hitting Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay with extreme surges. Extreme heavy rains before and during the hurricane resulted in river flooding in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The ’38 Long Island Express created the Shinnecock Inlet and widened Moriches Inlet. To this day, the changing landscape of the south shore are changing and have influence on the natural littoral sand transportation.


Peak Steady Winds – 121 mph

Peak Gust – 186 mph at Blue Hill Observatory, MA.

Lowest Pressure – 27.94 in (946.2 mb) at Bellport, NY

Peak Storm Surge – 17 ft. above normal high tide (RI)

Peak Wave Heights – 50 ft. at Gloucester, MA

Deaths – 700 (600 in New England)

Homeless – 63,000

Homes, Buildings Destroyed – 8,900

Boats Lost – 3,300

Trees Destroyed – 2 Billion (approx.)

Cost – $6.2 million (1938), $15 billion (1998 adjusted)