Produced by WSBE ("Channel 36" then, "Rhode Island PBS" now), Wake of '38 uses archival newsreel and home movie footage, as well as the vivid recollections and eyewitness accounts to tell the story of the nameless hurricane that careened through southern New England on September 21, 1938. An annual "favorite," Wake of '38 debuted in 1978, marking the 40th anniversary of the storm. We proudly air it on Saturday, September 21 at 11 p.m.
|Providence City Hall|
The unnamed hurricane of 1938 remains the most powerful and deadliest hurricane in recent New England history, eclipsed in landfall intensity perhaps only by the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy did more property damage in terms of dollars (despite its lower intensity at landfall); however, the 1938 storm still stands as the second costliest storm to strike New England.
From the New England office of National Weather Service division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) comes the following description of the Great Hurricane of 1938 (Source: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/box/hurricane/hurricane1938.shtml)
The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was one of the most destructive and powerful storms ever to strike Southern New England. This system developed in the far eastern Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands on September 4. It made a twelve day journey across the Atlantic and up the Eastern Seaboard before crashing ashore on September 21 at Suffolk County, Long Island, then into Milford, Connecticut. The eye of the hurricane was observed in New Haven, Connecticut, 10 miles east of Milford. The center made landfall at the time of astronomical high tide, moving north at 60 mph. Unlike most storms, this hurricane did not weaken on its way toward Southern New England, due to its rapid forward speed and its track. This kept the center of the storm over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
Sustained hurricane force winds occurred throughout most of Southern New England. The strongest winds ever recorded in the region occurred at the Blue Hill Observatory with sustained winds of 121 mph and a peak gust of 186 mph. Sustained winds of 91 mph with a gust to 121 mph was reported on Block Island. Providence, Rhode Island recorded sustained winds of 100 mph with a gust to 125 mph. Extensive damage occurred to roofs, trees and crops. Widespread power outages occurred, which in some areas lasted several weeks. In Connecticut, downed power lines resulted in catastrophic fires to sections of New London and Mystic. The lowest pressure at the time of landfall occurred on the south side of Long Island, at Bellport, where a reading of 27.94 inches was recorded. Other low pressures included 28.00 inches in Middletown, Connecticut and 28.04 inches in Hartford, Connecticut.
Rainfall from this hurricane resulted in severe river flooding across sections of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Three to six inches fell across much of western Massachusetts and all but extreme eastern Connecticut. Considerably less rain occurred to the east across Rhode Island and the remainder of Massachusetts. The rainfall from the hurricane added to the amounts that had occurred with a frontal system several days before the hurricane struck. The combined effects from the frontal system and the hurricane produced rainfall of 10 to 17 inches across most of the Connecticut River Valley. This resulted in some of the worst flooding ever recorded in this area. Roadways were washed away along with sections of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad lines. The Connecticut River, in Hartford reached a level of 35.4 feet, which was 19.4 feet above flood stage. Further upstream, in the vicinity of Springfield, Massachusetts, the river rose to 6 to 10 feet above flood stage, causing significant damage. A total of 8,900 homes, cottages and buildings were destroyed, and over 15,000 were damaged by the hurricane. The marine community was devastated. Over 2,600 boats were destroyed, and over 3,300 damaged. Entire fleets were lost in marines and yacht clubs along Narragansett Bay. The hurricane was responsible for 564 deaths and at least 1,700 injuries in Southern New England. Damage to the fishing fleets in Southern New England was catastrophic. A total of 2,605 vessels were destroyed, with 3,369 damaged.
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|"Main building at Bailey's Beach blocks the highway in Newport."|
|"Stone Bridge and the war memorial in normal times. The hardware store seen in this photo was swept away by the storm."|
In this case, the lobster hut in the photo above this one is located on the right side of this picture, outside the frame.
|"The terrible force of the Great Hurricane of 1938 is shown in these before and after photos |
of the Watch Hill Beach Club."