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The “Yankee Clipper” Hurricane of 1938 Remembered

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Today marks the 75th anniversary of the New England Hurricane of 1938, which was also called the “Great New England Hurricane,” the “Yankee Clipper” and the “Long Island Express.” It was the first major hurricane to hit New England since 1869, and is second to Hurricane Sandy of 2012, in regards to a dollar amount on property damage.

The Yankee Clipper formed near the coast of Africa, and gained a Category 5 strength – by the time it hit Long Island on September 21, it had downgraded to a Category 3. Between 564 and 800 people lost their lives during the storm, and property damage equaled losses of roughly $4.7 billion, adjusted to 2013 inflation. An additional 1,700 were injured and nearly 9,000 homes were destroyed. Only the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 is said to have had a higher landfall intensity.

The storm’s most powerful wind gust was 186 miles per hour, recorded at Blue Hill Observatory, and storm tides of 14 to 18 feet hit most of the Connecticut coast, with 18- to 25-foot tides seen from New London to Cape Cod. In Providence, the storm surge hit 20 feet, destroying most of the structures along the water. Damage could still be detected in the affected areas as late as 1951. A total of 2,605 fishing vessels were destroyed, with 3,369 damaged; a catastrophic blow to the Southern New England fishing fleet.

The storm took meteorologists and residents of the affected areas by surprise. Before computers, iPhones, TV’s, Super Doppler radar systems, etc., a meteorologist would hand-draw a storm system, and try to warn the neighbors. Here’s a rendering of the 1938 storm:

1938 hurricane

Lourdes B. Avilés, author of “Taken by Storm, 1938: A Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane,” said, “when the storm surge came, the impact caused seismographs to record [vibrations] almost as if it were an earthquake,” adding that the hurricane remains “the one to which all other New England hurricanes are sooner or later compared.”

I do declare “The Yankee Clipper” is my new rap name.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The “Yankee Clipper” Hurricane of 1938 Remembered
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  • Steve

    My grandfather made my mom and aunts go inside the house, he thought they were going to be blown away. South Walpole, Massachusetts

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