Before the naming system for storms was put into place they were referred to by the year they occurred and where they did the most damage. The 1938 Long Island Express sometimes referred to as The New England Hurricane of 1938 was a category three hurricane that spelled disaster for Long Island and New England when it hit. The areas of Long Island, New York, and New England would be changed forever by what became known as the Long Island Express on September 21, 1938.
Charlie Pierce was a junior forecaster with the U.S. Weather Bureau that had predicted the storm; the chief forecaster would not let the news out so the Weather Bureau experts and the general public were caught without warning. So unprepared were the people that they did not realize what was happening until their homes began to flood and be carried out to sea.
The most immediate effect was the devastation and loss that came with this powerful storm but some effects are still felt today. The Sinnecock Inlet and the widened Moriches Inlet were created and are still altering the landscape of the south shore due to the influence they hold on the natural movement of the sand.
There was no such thing as a weather satellite, radar or even buoys in use in the year 1938 to help in the tracking of the Long Island Express. Tracking of the storm was done while it moved west from Africa toward the Bahamas. The U.S. Weather Bureau (currently the National Weather Service) had knowledge that it was a strong storm and had reached a category five on September 19 but they thought that it would turn back out to sea before it hit the Northeast. The storm was still being tracked on the twenty-first just off the coast of Norfolk, VA; it was now down to a category three.
Charlie Pierce saw the large area of high pressure over the Atlantic Ocean just east of the coast and believed that the storm would move north instead of turning back to sea as previous storms in 1635 and 1815 had done. The official forecast was released as being for cloudy skies and gusty conditions; no hurricane mentioned. Since the forecast was nothing to be scared of even when the conditions rapidly began to worsen no one realized that the disaster was so close.
The storm went onto land at speeds of seventy miles per hour which is the fastest speed on record. The winds that hit Eastern Long Island and New England were over one-hundred and eighty miles per hour due to the rotation of the east side moving south to north in the same direction the storm was moving. 3:30 P.M. the Long Island Express hit Long Island; the eye was an estimated fifty miles across and the hurricane itself was around 500 miles wide. The high tide was even higher than normal due to the Autumnal Equinox and new moon; the waves that beat away at the coast were thirty to fifty feet high and managed to take homes out to sea. So powerful was the storm that it managed to get itself recorded on the earthquake seismograph at Fordham University in New York City.
Storm tides across the majority of the Long Island and Connecticut coast were fourteen to eighteen feet with eighteen to twenty-five food tides going from New London all the way to Cape Cod. The destruction was felt all though the community with downtown Westhampton Beach underneath eight feet of water and it is a mile inland! The same fate fell upon parts of Falmouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The hurricane produced rainfalls that led to rivers flooding sections of New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. There was anywhere from three to six inches across western Massachusetts and all but a small portion of Eastern Connecticut. This combined with the rains preceding the storms led to the worst flood conditions ever recorded in this region.
There is a fear that a storm of this nature would finish destroying the area should one hit again.