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"The Long Island Express."


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Another famous weather anniversary! Exactly 70 years ago this weekend the most notorious hurricane of the inter war period struck the North Eastern United States. Forecasters had mistakenly thought it would follow an easterly course out into the Atlantic but it changed direction and headed north. making landfall at Long Island in the afternoon of 21st September. Coastal areas of New England received heavy damage from storm surge and winds of over 100mph; further inland the system dumped incredible amounts of rain which, falling on land already saturated by a wet September, caused immense floods in places such as Hartford, Connecticut. Millions of trees were lost and in some areas the landscape was changed for ever. One unusual product of this hurricane is that pieces of wood from some of the trees felled were made into a number of objects from paperweits to buttons that were sold to raise funds for the rleief of the victims. If anyone has any recallections of this famous storm I would love to hear from you

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  • Location: Irlam
  • Location: Irlam

Here's the article I wrote just a day or two ago on this event

On the 21st of September 1938, New England was hit by a hurricane which has become known as the Long Island Express. It was off the east coast of Florida on the morning of the 20th, North Carolina on the 21st and reached Ottawa on the 22nd.

Weather forecasters believed the storm was dying out and was heading away from the US coasts. However the storm was increasing in intensity and heading towards New England.


Pressure readings at Hartford

11am on the 21st: 996mb

3.30pm: 948mb

An area of about 39,000 square miles of New England was affected with Long Island, Connecticut and Rhode Island being the worst hit. The winds on the eastern flank of the hurricane were up to 150mph and the storm itself was moving at a rate of 100 mph.

A huge storm surge hit the New England coastline, one witness described it as "thick and high bank of fog rolling in fast from the ocean, 40 feet high." Many were killed by the storm surge. 20 ton breakwater boulders were pushed as much as 50 feet by the surge. A 71 foot lighthouse was swept away with its keeper.

The Connecticut city of Providence was devastated as can be seen in this photo.


The city centre was under as much as 10 feet of water.

The cities of New York and Boston were on the fringes of the hurricane with gusts of wind up to 90mph recorded at Boston. Power was knocked out in the city and the 100ft radio tower at the airport collapsed. An 8 ton American Airlines DC-2 was hurled half a mile distance.

At New York, the top of the Empire Building State building recorded gusts of up to 120mph. Many of the New York boroughs lost power.

As the storm tracked northwards, over Lake Champlain, the amount of rain that fell was enough to raise the lake by two feet.

In Canada, the city of Montreal was being hit by 50mph gusts causing problems for that city.

The toll

At least 600 dead

Over 60,000 homes

26,000 automobiles

75% of pleasure craft destroyed

20,000 miles of telegraph and electirc cable down

500,000 dosmetic fowl killed

4 million bushels of apple lost

250 million trees lost

New Hampshire lost half of its white pine

Vermont lost 66% of its sugar maples

One remarkable story is of a houseowner who returned to Fire Island to find his house 200 yards away on the foundations of a vacated cottage facing the other way. Lamps were still on and a water jug on a sink had not been spilled.

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  • Location: Rossland BC Canada
  • Location: Rossland BC Canada

There was a more damaging hurricane for New York City in 1821, at least it would have been more damaging relative to 1938 if the city had been as large. This one is described as a coastal tracker from Hatteras north, at one point a cat-4, and still near cat-3 as the centre passed over Manhattan and the Bronx. There's no doubt that the 1938 hurricane was the worst in two centuries at least for eastern Long Island and central New England. Gloria in 1985 was a somewhat subued version of a similar track to 1938.

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